A distinctive 18th-century marble bust crafted by the renowned French artist Edmé Bouchardon has ignited a fierce debate in the quiet port town of Invergordon in eastern Scotland.
Purchased in 1930 by the local council for a meagre £5, the bust of Sir John Gordon, a prominent 18th-century Scottish figure, may soon fetch millions at auction, with the proceeds earmarked for public programs. However, the fate of this valuable artwork hangs in the balance, subject to the opinions of the town’s mere 4,000 residents.
Sotheby’s, acting on behalf of the Highland Council, has received a substantial offer of over $3 million for the sculpture. While the town’s councillors are inclined towards the sale, they have stipulated that the buyer must provide a museum-quality replica of the bust as part of the deal. The sum, while significant, falls just short of the Bouchardon bust record set at €3 million ($3.2 million) in 2012.
This outstanding artwork’s history was lost during mid-20th-century governmental reorganisations; the bust reemerged in 1998, casually propping open a shed door in rural Easter Ross. Since then, it has been safeguarded in the Inverness Museum and Art Gallery due to its immense value.
In a recent move, the Highland Council has given the green light to a public consultation on the potential sale, allowing the local community to weigh in on the matter. The proceeds from the sale would bolster the Invergordon Common Good Fund, supporting local community projects.
As an early masterpiece of Bouchardon, who served as the official sculptor to French King Louis XV, the bust offers a unique insight into the artist’s talent during his formative years. Bouchardon, instrumental in steering sculpture from Rococo to Neoclassical styles, left a significant mark on the art world. His creations, including sculptures for the Palace of Versailles and a monumental statue of Louis XV, have become iconic symbols of his era.
The fate of this artistic treasure now rests in the hands of Invergordon’s residents, whose collective decision will determine the bust’s destiny and the future of their community.
Edmé Bouchardon: Master Sculptor of the Enlightenment
Born on May 29, 1698, in Chaumont-en-Bassigny, France, Edmé Bouchardon grew up to become one of the most celebrated sculptors of the 18th century. His journey into the world of art began with an apprenticeship under sculptor Guillaume Coustou, renowned for his work on the Place de la Concorde in Paris. Bouchardon’s talent quickly became evident, setting the stage for his illustrious career.
In 1723, Bouchardon travelled to Rome, a pivotal experience that profoundly influenced his artistic style. Immersed in the rich heritage of classical sculpture and inspired by the works of ancient masters, he honed his craft. He developed a deep appreciation for the Neoclassical ideals that would define his creations.
Upon his return to France, Bouchardon’s talent captured the attention of influential patrons, including King Louis XV. He received prestigious commissions, contributing significantly to the artistic landscape of Paris. His notable works include the mesmerising fountain sculptures at the Place Louis XV, now Place de la Concorde, which showcased his mastery in capturing the essence of movement and grace.
Bouchardon played a pivotal role in the transition from Rococo to Neoclassicism, infusing his sculptures with classical elements and refined elegance. His innovative approach to depicting human form, characterised by delicate detailing and emotional depth, set new standards in sculptural art.
Edmé Bouchardon’s legacy endures through his timeless masterpieces, displayed in renowned institutions such as the Louvre Museum in Paris. His influence on subsequent generations of sculptors, particularly during the Enlightenment era, remains profound. Artists and enthusiasts continue to draw inspiration from his works, admiring the harmonious blend of classical tradition and contemporary vision that define Bouchardon’s sculptures.
Edmé Bouchardon’s life and artistry are a testament to his enduring impact on sculpture. His dedication to classical ideals, coupled with his innovative spirit, elevated the art form and left an indelible mark on art history. Today, his sculptures continue to captivate audiences worldwide, reminding us of the brilliance of a sculptor whose creativity illuminated the Enlightenment era.
Top Photo: Bouchardon Bust, 1728, Edmé Bouchardon. Image: courtesy Highland Council.