26 November 2014

The Polymathic Career of Edouard-Marcel Sandoz

"And to feel that the light is a rabbit-light
In which everything is meant for you
And nothing need be explained;"
 - excerpt from "A Rabbit as King of the Ghosts" by Wallace Stevens

To make a bronze rabbit look alive, to achieve what Wallace Stevens called "rabbit-light+,  and, further, to make a cocked ear that looks as though it will twitch at any moment, takes the combined talents of a polymath, someone who knows the properties of the materials, the ways of animals, and a deep spatial sense.   Someone like Edoaurd-Marcel Sandoz.    The same master of verisimilitude who could carve a falcon on a branch, out of a branch, could also make porcelain appear to be origami paper birds (saliere en forme de cocotte en papier), a winsome feat  trompe-l'oieil.

Edouard Marcel Sandoz (1881-1971)  was born  in Basel, Switzerland.  His father, Edward, founded  the Sandoz  Pharmaceutical  Company (now Novartis).
After  a period in Rome, Sandoz studied at the School of Industrial Arts in Geneva from 1900-03. Then he enrolled at  l’Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris for two years of training  with  sculptors Antonin Mercie (1845-1916), Antoine Injalbert (1845-1933), and the painter Fernand Cormon (1854-1924).  Sandoz was most influenced by a sculptor he apparently never worked with, Francois Pompon (1855-1933). Pompon had worked as an assistant to Auguste Rodin.  His L’Ours Blanc (1922), some translated as The Polar Bear in Stride, is one of the most loved works at the Musee d’Orsay .

The career Sandoz fashioned from his many interests  encompassed painter-decorator, engineer, physicist, chemist (researching dyes and their applications), inventor (the invention of the black light has been attributed to Sandoz.  “Art must include love, nature, and science,” Sandoz wrote (the translation is mine). His heart belonged to sculpture, with a special chamber for  his love of animals.
It was a shortage of bronze and stone for sculpture during World War I that led Sandoz to begin working with porcelain and to his association with the Haviland  Limoges firm from 1915-1952.  His porcelain  boxes, bottles, carafes, tea and coffee services  were  among its most sought after items.  Sandoz worked  with  other materials, such as  marble, bronze when he turned to sculpture.  Stylistically, Sandoz  easily embraced the  transition from Art Nouveau to Art Deco.  Even today, these styles may seem peculiarly foreign, even though Rockefeller Center is the center of a mythic Art Deco Manhattan, but Sandoz would surely be better known in North America if his work could travel, no small undertaking for sculptures.

That deep spatial sense I mentioned enabled Sandoz to create his masterpiece, The Crossroads of Life  (1967), that stands in the garden of the Musee Oceanograhpique  in Monaco.   The four-sided figure represents the stages in the life of a woman:  infancy, youth, maturity, age.    Viewed from the front,  she is a nubile young woman, in the curvilinear Art Nouveau style.  On the back of the statue, her hair becomes a drape, she is covered with a robe and it is the child who is naked.  The right profile, under a veil of  hair, is the face of a mature woman.  The left profile shows the face of an old woman.
Sandoz founded the French Wildlife  Society in 1933 and, with his brother Aurelius, an animal sanctuary. Sandoz's relationship with animals was deep.   There are photographs of him at work in his studio at  Denantou in Lausanne surrounded  by  a panther, fennecs, monkeys, cubs,  fish, frogs, turtles, dogs, cats, parrots, and even a cheetah.

In recognition of his many and various achievements, Sandoz was made a Chevalier of the French Legion of Honor and also a Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters.
He died in Lausanne, Switzerland in 1971.

For more, visit Fondation Sandoz.
1. Edouard-Marcel Sandoz - Lapin a l'oreille dressee (Rabbit with a cocked ear), La Piscine, Roubai.
2. Edouard-Marcel Sandoz - Falcon on a Branch, Fondation Sandoz, Basel.
3. Edouard-Marcel Sandoz - Owl, private collection, France.
4. Edouard-Marcel Sandoz - Saliere en forme de cocotte, La Piscine, Roubaix.
5. unidentified photographer - Sandoz in his studio.