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60th YEAR -No. 18397 - €1.20 -


The works of the sculptor, René Letourneur, on sale in a Paris gallery

The Mertel-Grenier gallery in Paris is currently hosting an exhibition of the work of the little-known sculptor, René Letourneur (1898-1990), featuring marble, bronze, and terracotta pieces as well as a selection of drawings. A medal winner at the 1922 Salon des Artistes Français, his first exhibition, René Letourneur was soon widely acclaimed by his contemporaries.
Winner of the Médaille d'Or at the Exposition des Arts décoratifs et industriels in 1925, he went on to win the Premier Grand Prix de Rome for sculpture in 1926, while, in 1929, a jury chaired by Maillol appointed him to carry out a commission from the Ecuadorian government to raise a monument to Simon Bolivar. He created a gigantic bronze frieze, 12 metres long and 10 metres high, depicting the nation's liberator, supported by winged victories, as he leads his men to triumph. In his words "only bronze could faithfully capture the momentum and frenzied motion of freedom's dream".From 1940 onwards he played an active role in incorporating art into architecture and executed numerous ornamental low-reliefs such as Le Tabac (the Tobacconist's) which remains resplendent on the facade of the building at no. 67 Quai d'Orsay in
Paris.The war years were a period of intense activity for Letourneur. He joined the French Resistance and turned his hand to journalism, working for the Panorama review in 1943 and 1944. Between 1950 and 1970, official commissions flooded in: war memorial in Alençon, facade of the Gambetta lycée in Arras, La Seine and L'Oise, two statues 5 metres in length on the Pont du Pecq, etc. Orders fell away in the 1970s and the sculptor devoted his time to teaching until 1982, while continuing to create for his own pleasure. His forcefully modelled pieces were in keeping with a principle which he both applied and championed: "a sculpture is the sum of its depths not its reliefs" This continual striving for depth underpinned his entire body of work and is reflected in the stylised manner in which he represented the female form, his preferred theme. The art critic Pierre Restany, who wrote a book on Letourneur in 1999, described his style as being akin to an "envelopment of the form in the mass of stone". It is a style which is fully in keeping with the aesthetics of Art Deco.
The terracotta pieces and drawings are among the most accessible works. At the lower end of the price range there is a torso of Venus in white patina (€2,800).

La Vague (the Wave), one of the most stunning creations, is symbolised by a curved and contoured female form in motion (€6,000). The charcoal drawings appear to be preparatory sketches for sculptures with accentuated shadowing and relief (€3,000 to €4,800).
One of the most spectacular bronzes, the Danae, offers the originality of a female portrait in gilded patina (€22,000); one of the smallest, Arabesque, demonstrates the sculptor's innate sense of movement (€5,000). Somewhat neglected in recent years, Letourneur will be exhibited at the cultural centre of the French consulate in New York this autumn while a dozen or so monumental pieces will also be on display in the city's streets.

Catherine Bedel

Galerie Martel-Greiner, 71 boulevard Raspail, 75006 Paris. Tel.: 01 45 48 13 05 until 3 April, Tuesday to Saturday, 1pm to 7pm. Letourneur, by Pierre Restany, édition du Cercle d'art, €75 (on sale at gallery)