Acknowledgements: Many thanks to Niamh Laboisse for her assistance and support, to Philip Ward-Jackson for assisting me in my inquiries, and to the Royal Collection, the Ville de Paris, the National Portrait Gallery and Marion Harris, New York for granting me reproduction rights. [Click on the images to enlarge them.]

Polychromy and materials

Details of a female bust [backgrounds digitally removed — JB].

Marochetti's predilection for polychromy started in England (Blanc 567). Marochetti had arrived in England in 1848. Belonging to his early British career, two works bear traces of polychromy: tinted hair on a marble medallion and gilded hair and jewels on a bust. The angels of the Monument to the Viscounts Melbourne (1862) were also reported to be gilded and lightly tinted: "The marble is sensuously tinted, the hair gilded" (The Athenaeum, 7 February 1863: 197). This colouring soon disappeared under dust, an admirer complained, recalling that once "Their faces appeared lustrous with a lingering upon them of the pure light of their heavenly home, and their hair was tinted with a pallid golden hue – a sort of midway tint between moonlight and sunlight" (London City Press, 2 September 1871).

In this monument, the mixing of media — marble and bronze – brings out the contrast of colours: two white marble angels — celestial creatures — with bronze attributes, framing a black bronze door, the gate of death. Marochetti created a similar, but inverted contrast in the Royal Tomb (1862-7) at Frogmore Mausoleum; there, four large bronze angels, wearing the colour of death, are found kneeling at the corners of the sarcophagus, upon which lie the recumbent effigies in white marble of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, both glaring with the brightness of resurrection.

Besides, speaking of the Victory intended for the monument to the Duke of Wellington, the model of which could be seen in Marochetti's studio together with the Peace Trophy, the Times declared: "This figure is everything in the monument — all else is accessory; and wrought out, colossal, in alabaster and marble against the great bronze door of the tomb, so bringing out the rich effects of colour which no one knows better than Baron Marochetti how to arrange" (16 April 1856).

Statue of Sir Jamsetjee Jejeebhoy, Bart.,” by Baron Marochetti, Illustrated London News, 25 September 1858: 279 © Illustrated London News Group.

Marochetti had previously obtained subtle colour effects” by using two kinds of marble – one whiter than the other — for his group of the High Altar in the church of La Madeleine in Paris (1843). As for the colouring of sculpture, he went so far as to colour one of the bronze versions of Sir Jamsetjee Jejeebhoy's statue (1858):

In addition to the marble statue of this venerable Parsee baronet, a bronze one has been executed by Baron Marochetti at the expense of Sir Jamsetjee's youngest son, Mr Sorabjee. This work of art, which was shipped for Bombay a few days ago, and which has excited the admiration of those of Sir Jamsetjee's friends who have visited the artist's studio, is certainly remarkable as exhibiting a startling departure from the usual course. Baron Marochetti has sought to combine in the work the elements of the picturesque as well as the sculpturesque, and has completely clothed the figure in a raiment of paint, truthful not only to nature in the flesh tints, but accurate to the tailor's art in the colouring of the robes and the pattern on the turban. Indeed, this last effort of Baron Marochetti's genius is sufficient to charm the heart of a thorough-going mediaevalist and to drive the lovers of the Phidian school to suicidal despair. [The Homeward Mail, 3 September 1858: 952].

The reporter's conclusion reflects on how vivid the polychrome issue was at that time and how Marochetti's experiments could be perceived. There are two other bronze casts of this statue, one of which was exhibited at the London International Exhibition in 1862. It was much praised on both sides of the Channel. Atkinson thought it "comparable to works by the vigorous hand of Velasquez, ...the result is character, command, and power, maintained in dignity of repose" (The Art-Journal, 1 November 1862: 214, qtd in Ward-Jackson's Marochetti catalogue: 2034), while Mantz claimed: "[Marochetti's] statue has both the sensitive intimacy of a portrait and the disturbing tranquillity of a Ganges' god." (Gazette des Beaux-Arts, 376). In this article, he had just criticized the polychrome works by Gibson. What would have been Paul Mantz's reaction if Marochetti had exhibited his painted bronze?


Left: Carlo Marochetti” by Camille Silvy, albumen carte-de-visite, 31 March 1861, NPG Ax14819 © National Portrait Gallery, London. Behind Marochetti can be seen a statuette of his famous Richard I, Cœur de Lion. The colossal statue had been erected in front of the Parliament on 26 October 1860, a few months before the photograph was taken. Right: Théophile Gautier” by Camille Silvy, albumen print, 19 May 1862, NPG Ax58012 © National Portrait Gallery, London.

Paul Mantz wrote in the same review: "it is no longer possible today to make sculpture in colour" (qtd.” by Wolfgang Drost in Blühm 66). A letter demonstrates that at that time Marochetti was still "full of the subject of colouring statues" (qtd. above). Indeed, in August 1862 he wrote to Théophile Gautier who was in Algier:

You have a ceiling, where a painting is missing; Therefore, it is only rational to place a sculpture on it if we paint the sculpture... A 'salmis' of Pompeii, Herculaneum, Lucas della Robbia, porcelain and terracotta, which could turn into a delicious stew if the cook didn't burn his fingers first. [Gautier 63]

Gautier and Marochetti had certainly seen each other when the French writer was in London for the 1862 International Exhibition: Gautier had met W. M. Thackeray (Gautier 130), a neighbour and very good friend of Marochetti's, and had been at Camille Silvy's on 19 May 1862 (NPG 58011 & 58012), where Marochetti's Queen of Peace was on display. Moreover, Gautier had previously published a full review of Louis Matout's mural paintings in the Lariboisière chapel in the Gazette des Beaux-Arts (15 April 1861), and was obviously aware of Marochetti's polychrome masterwork. For unknown reasons, Marochetti did not continue colouring sculpture after 1861.

As remarkable as they are, the marble busts of Princess Gouramma of Coorg and Maharajah Duleep/ Dalip Singh should not be considered Marochetti's only contribution to nineteenth-century polychromy. Carlo Marochetti was a key player and definitely a forerunner. The fact that some of his works convinced the staunchest opponents of Polychromy on both sides of the Channel – Henry Weekes and Charles Blanc – proves, if proof be needed, the quality of his initiative.

Related Material


Archives Nationales (French Archives), Fonds Persigny.

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__________________. "Carlo Marochetti et les photographes." In Revue de l'Art. 1994. No. 104: 43-48.

__________________. "High Altar with Exaltation of the Magdalen," 2038. "Memorial to Members of the Services Who Died in the Crimean War," 2260. "Prince Albert," 2160. "Project for the Memorial to the Duke of Wellington," 2106. "Queen Victoria," 2176. "Queen Victoria as 'Queen of Peace,'" 2188. "Queen Victoria on Horseback," 2182. "Richard Cœur de Lion," 2214. "Sir Jamsetjee Jejeebhoy," 2034. "Tomb of Eliza Roy, Comtesse de Lariboisière," 2725. "Carlo Marochetti Catalogue" online on the Fine Art Facts website.

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Created 4 June 2018