A press release (.pdf) from the Frick Collection informs us that the museum has made an important purchase of a Lepaute clock with sculptural figures by Clodion (1738-1814). It won't be on exhibit at the Frick until this fall. But it sounds exciting.
It made me think of what Pierce Rice had to say about Clodion in Man as Hero: The Human Figure in Western Art (1987):
Clodion is commonly represented as the closest in spirit to Fragonard among sculptors. He is a sufficiently great master in his own right not to need the comparison which, in any case, is only true to a degree. Clodion was, for one thing, closer to actuality than Fragonard, but he also had a largeness of vision alongside a measure of boisterous effervescence never reached before or after in sculpture that at leasts suggests a parallel.
Rice wrote of Clodion and Fragonard in the chapter "The Body Etherealized."
The archaic Greek nude has its own beauties, but it was the Hellenistic nude, imported and imitated by the Romans, that determined the course of Western painting and sculpture, and almost by itself accounted for the Renaissance. Its lifelikeness revealed possibilities of execution that stunned the first beholders of these unearthed wonders. Of even greater consequence, it testified to the idea of art containing a spiritual life within itself. Even more than to the matchless surface, that lifelikeness was owed the wonderful animation achieved by the Greek sculptors, a measure of grace that had eluded (or not even been sought by) not only their Egyptian predecessors but every other school of sculpture in the world.
Rice looked to the French 18th century for some of the most outstanding examples of this "wonderful animation."
Here is that "wonderful animation" in painting:
Here is some more Clodion:
In his chapter "The Cherub," Rice wrote:
That the central theme of the West is Man, with the instrument of this the depiction of the human body at its most splendid, engaged in undertakings of deep consequence, is less oppressive than it might appear. It is gratifying to be able to note that the formula is modified by the presence throughout the art of the past twenty-five hundred years of an army of infants busy at perfectly frivolous tasks. These infants are like their adult counterparts in that they resemble only to a degree actual infants. In particular, the baby of art is a flying baby.
A half dozen or so books are with me every day of my life. Not physically with me, but mentally. Man as Hero is one of them, continually informing my perceptions of the city around me. Pierce Rice
(1916-2003), a native Brooklynite who attended the fabled Boys' High School and Pratt Institute, was the great theorist of classical art in our time. But he made his living illustrating comic books.
You can find a used copy of Man as Hero here.