Charles Henri Joseph Cordier
French, 1827–1905
Cast by: Eck et Durand Fondeur French, 19th century
Bust of Saïd Abdullah of the Darfour People
1848

Bronze
H. 82.5 cm (32 1/2 in.) (with socle); 71.3 cm (28 1/8 in.) (without socle)
Signed and dated: "CH. CORDIER 1848"
Ada Turnbull Hertle Endowment, 1963.839

Charles Cordier, while still a young art student, established himself as a leader in the emerging field of ethnographic sculpture. Interest in ethnography grew significantly during the first half of the 19th century, sparked by the emergence of anthropology as a field of study, the increasing ease of travel, and paintings of foreign lands and peoples by Eugène Delacroix and other Romantic artists. However, the ethnographic sculptor’s interest in representing different races indicates less of a scientific pursuit than a kind of documentary objectivity more closely associated with the Realists.

Bust of Saïd Abdallah of the Darfour People was Cordier’s first and greatest success. Using as a model a Sudanese man who, the sculptor claimed, simply turned up at his studio, he created a plaster version of Saïd Abdallah for exhibition at the Salon of 1848. Most ethnographic sculpture was created by making a plaster mold from a live model, which would then be cast in bronze, but Cordier insisted on following the traditional sculpting method of building up his form in clay using his hands and sculptors’ tools. His emphasis on the subject’s dignity and pride set Cordier apart from his contemporaries. Saïd Abdallah’s costume and hairstyle are depicted in great detail, down to the individual strands of tassels and hair. His raised eyes gaze majestically into the distance. His firm features express the dignity and nobility of a leader. Although Cordier was later appointed sculptor to the Museum of Natural History in Paris and went on several government-sponsored missions to Africa in that capacity, this bust and its pendant remain his most acclaimed work.

Charles Henri Joseph Cordier
French, 1827–1905
Cast by: Eck et Durand Fondeur
French, 19th century
Bust of an African Woman
1851

Bronze
H. 71.7 cm (31 in.) (with socle); 62.2 cm (27 1/4 in.) (without socle)
Signed and dated: "1851 / CCORDIER
Ada Turnbull Hertle Endowment, 1963.840

Bust of an African Woman (called “The African Venus” by critic Théophile Gautier) was created as a pendant to Saïd Abdallah in 1851, and both were cast in bronze later that year. Much less is known about the origins of this bust, but since it displays the same realism and emphasis on detail, Cordier most likely modeled it from life. The woman is dressed in a patterned wrap, adorned with heavy earrings and a coral necklace, which suggests that she may have come from East Africa. Her expression is more animated than that of Saïd Abdallah; her eyes glance to the left and her lips are parted as if she were about to speak.

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