Willème, Auguste François

1830 Sedan – Roubaix 1905

  • Portrait de Céleste-Rose Beauregard dite Rose Deschamps

    Portrait of Celeste-Rose Beauregard called Rose Deschamps

  • Terracotta, 1865

    Unsigned with stamp under the base d’Osmond 1865

  • Size

    40 x 34 x 38 cm

  • Provenance

    Comte Rainulphe d’Osmond’s collection; Private collection, France

  • Literature

    Robert A. Sobieszek, Sculpture as the Sum of Its Profiles: François Willeme and photosculpture in France 1859 – 1868, The Art Bulletin, vol. 62 n°4, December 1980, p. 617-630

  • Exhibition

    This terracotta is probably one of the finest examples of the photosculpture technique developed by the painter and sculptor François Willème. It depicts Rose Deschamps, an actress from the Comédie Française, in an extraordinary crinoline dress, capturing her in a movement that highlights her graceful and haughty bearing. The young woman’s clothes appears as a subject in its own right. A unique process, photosculpture allows us to capture a moment and make the richness of the materials palpable: silk taffeta, lace, ribbons… It seems as if we could crumple them between our fingers.


    On 17 May 1861, François Willème presented his new process to the Société Française de Photographie and in 1863, in association with Charles de Marnyhac, he founded the Société Générale de Photosculpture. His workshop was located on Boulevard de l’Etoile. A vast glass dome overlooked a circular room. Twenty-four windows around its perimeter allowed the lenses of cameras to pass through, all connected to each other. Their simultaneous release made the model in the centre of the room to be photographed from twenty-four different angles. A double pantograph arm then allowed the realization of a clay blank by successive transfers of the contours. In forty-eight hours, the customer can then be offered a polychrome plaster, terracotta, biscuit, bronze, alabaster or electroplating model in variable dimensions. Willème will go so far as to imagine real business cards in the form of small busts. Auguste Clésinger quickly became the artistic director of the Société[1], and insisted on the primordial role of the artist in the operation: « en cessant d’être manœuvre, l’artiste ne demeure que plus surement statuaire [2]« . Critics were enthusiastic about the process, as Théophile Gautier exclaimed: « si ce n’est pas un chef-d’œuvre c’est au moins une merveille ![3] ». The Second Empire saw the blossoming of the concept of Fine Arts applied to industry and artists in return explored the discoveries of their time. Doesn’t Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres use the prism of a camera lucida for portraits that still today arouse the admiration of all? However, without the eye and the hand of the artist, the mechanics are nothing.


    Among the very numerous portraits François Willème makes, one category stands out: that of the actors. The Musée Carnavalet in Paris keeps about ten of them. Most of the time, they are portrayed in a costume that is characteristic of them. Similarly, Jean-Auguste Barre portrays Fanny Elssler dansant la cachucha and, later, Albert-Ernest Carrier-Belleuse the Countess of Castiglione in the costume of the Queen of Etruria. This portrait of Rose Deschamps was probably made for the music lover Rainulphe d’Osmond. These effigies of the celebrities of the time, both intimate and worldly, are a testimony to modern life, tastes, fashions and technologies.

    [1] Auguste Clésinger was also one of the main contributors to the Société des Marbres et Bronzes Artistiques de Paris, founded by Charles de Marnyhac, (Universal Exhibitions of 1878 and 1900).

    [2] Auguste Clésinger, letter to the critic Paul de Saint-Victor quoted in ‘La photosculpture’, La Presse, Paris, 22 February 1867, p. 3, 8th column.

    [3] Théophile Gautier, ‘Photosculpture’, Le Moniteur Universel, Paris, 4 janvier 1864.

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