Francois Pompon1855 - 1933
Born: May 9, 1855, Saulieu, France
Died: May 6, 1933, Paris, France
Born in a small village near Dijon, France, to working-class parents in 1855, Francois Pompon began his artistic career as an apprentice marble carver in a Dijon funerary monument company. During the early 1870s, he studied architecture, engraving, and sculpture in evening courses at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Dijon. By 1876, when he was twenty-one years old, Pompon had moved to Paris in order to continue his study of art. He enrolled in evening classes at the Ecole Nationale des Arts Decoratifs, so that he also had time for gainful employment. Because the Franco-Prussian War and the Commune of 1871 had caused significant damage to the French capital just a few years prior to his arrival, Pompon was able to make a living working on projects in the rebuilding efforts. For example, the young sculptor helped produce architectural ornamentation for the new Hotel de Ville de Paris. His academic career was soon bringing moderate success, as well, as Pompon made his Salon debut in 1879, exhibiting a statue of Victor Hugo's Cosette (from Les Miserables).
The early years of the 1880s brought Pompon's marriage to dressmaker Berthe Velain, but little is known about the sculptor's career until he began studying with Auguste Rodin in 1890. It is probable that his early Salon success prompted Pompon to spend much of the 1880s attempting to become an independent artist, but he encountered difficulty since he was still searching for his personal style. He began to focus on the animal form in his work around this time, inspired by Pierre-Louis Rouillard, who was an animalier sculptor he'd met during the course of his education. He also slowly divorced himself from realism in his sculpture.
Consequently, Pompon spent many years working for different master sculptors; between the years 1890 and 1893, he worked and studied in Rodin's atelier, becoming one of that sculptor's head assistants. Between 1896 and 1916, Pompon worked for popular sculptor Renae de Saint-Mareaux. The latter master's death allowed Pompon to once again attempt independence, though it was not until around 1919 that he finally had a breakthrough, when the Muse de Luxembourg purchased a turtledove he had sculpted in stone. Following this, the Muse de Grenoble purchased three plaster works in 1921. In 1922, at age 67, Pompon showed his L'Ours Blanc (or, Polar Bear) at the Salon de'Automne, receiving almost instant fame for the plaster sculpture (later produced in marble).
Although much of his career was spent working with other artists, Pompon garnered many awards for his own work, which is now held in the collections of major museums throughout the world. Of course, most of Pompon's works still reside in France; the final ten years of his life were spent creating as an independent sculptor, and he left about 300 works to the French state upon his death in 1933. 1964 saw a major retrospective of Pompon's work in his native Dijon.