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Woman Bitten by a Snake

Musée d’Orsay, Paris


Charles Millard considers Clésinger’s Woman Bitten by a Snake a debasement of Neoclassical sculpture:

“Clesinger’s Woman…is executed in the academically-preferred marble, every detail of her anatomy and the flowered ground on which she lies meticulously indicated. Presumably writhing in agony, although the serpent that has bitten her is all but invisible, the voluptuous figure, surely the nakedest of nineteenth-century nudes, could well be the inspiration for [Félix] Fénéon’s outburst forty years later, ‘O these sculptors of pleasing things; dainty, pretty, and polished! O the war of Canova! And yet Canova had the Princess Pauline Borghese to pose before him; but from what living flesh do they copy these clockcase subjects, fit at most to excite the libidinousness of dirty old men?’ No other work shows so well how base ideas that in other hands become the first indications of a new art.”

Charles W. Millard, “The Reclining Figure and the Development of Modern Sculpture,” The Hudson Review, vol. 27, no. 2 (Summer 1974): 239.

About the Artist

Born: Besançon, 20 October 1814
Died: Paris, 5 January 1883
Nationality: French