Eugène DODEIGNE: Sculptures et fusains

28 January - 25 February 2023 Paris / Main space

Dodeigne in Paris: an exhibition for a centenary

The Galerie Christophe Gaillard chose 2023 as the year when it would showcase the works of the sculptor Eugène Dodeigne for the first time. The exhibition marks a centenary: a hundred years since Eugène Dodeigne was born in Rouvreux, a quarrying village in Belgium’s Walloon province of Liège. Dodeige went on to become a very important sculptor whose works have been exhibited worldwide.

Dodeigne’s own father, a stonecutter, first trained him in his craft – a story like that of so many other famous sculptors, including Antoine Bourdelle, Joseph Bernard, Barbara Hepworth, Roël D'Haese and Agustín Cárdenas. He then honed his skills at Beaux-Arts de Paris – France’s leading school of fine arts – where he acquired a taste for stone, which became his favourite material, and where he deepened his knowledge of it. Dodeigne gained recognition in northern Europe from the 1960s. But he had to wait longer for France to fully acknowledge his true talent. This recalls the narrative of his friend the painter Eugène Leroy, who was only really acclaimed when he had reached the age of eighty. The French capital nevertheless appreciated Dodeigne’s works: exhibitions took place in the Galerie Claude Bernard, the Galerie Pierre Loeb and the Galerie Jeanne Bucher. Other countries took an interest in his oeuvre early on: his sculptures were displayed at the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels, Belgium, in 1957; at the Boijmans Van Beuningen Museum in Rotterdam, the Netherlands; at the Kunsthalle in Basel, Switzerland; and at the Springer, Zwirner and Brusberg galleries in Germany. As the years went by, his sculptures in Soignies stone – his trademark material – reached the status of monumental works. Dodeigne’s sculpture groups now grace many public places and museum grounds in Europe. For example, they can be admired in Hanover, Germany; in Liège, Belgium; at the Kröller-Müller Museum in Otterlo, the Netherlands; and in France at the Fondation Septentrion in Marcq-en-Barœul, at the Fondation Maeght in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, at the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Lille, at the La Piscine Museum in Roubaix, at the Lille Métropole Museum of Modern, Contemporary and Outsider Art in Villeneuve-d'Ascq, at the Musée de Grenoble, at the Musée d'Art Contemporain du Val-de-Marne in Vitry-sur-Seine, and even in the Tuileries Garden in central Paris.

The seven stone sculptures exhibited at the Galerie Christophe Gaillard were among the last ones that Dodeigne produced. By then, he was already aged over seventy – and had spent over fifty of those seventy years cutting stone. So these seven sculptures bear witness to Dodeigne’s last concerns. They show how he refreshed his artistic expression, how he refined it to leave only what mattered. In 1997, he explained, ‘Stone is a rock that never stops living. I find myself alone with stone – and she is always there. It’s ultimately a loving struggle against a rock.’ Indeed, in each sculpture, you sense that intense struggle against the material – ‘the fight’, as Dodeigne called it, that would end with him having breathed life into the work. Among the rock types in the oeuvres displayed, we find the bluish tones of Dodeigne’s trademark: Soignies stone – his favourite material, which characterised his works – like in Roc or Les Doigts; we find the light beige hues of Massangis stone in L’Étreinte and Les Deux figures; and we find the pristine whiteness of Carrara marble in Élancée. These creations show that Dodeigne’s craftsmanship was as effective as ever and that he was still using the fragmented-stone technique that he started trying out from the 1960s – an approach that would leave raw traces of his cuts in his sculptures. In these works of art, Dodeigne deliberately incorporated – more than ever before – traces of his own tools in the stone: the cuts of a digging bar, a drill, an air hammer, an angle grinder. These marks stand out as vital aspects of the sculptures, where light falls and shapes form, torn away from the rock.

The bronze Nu debout has a special place in the artist’s oeuvre. It was made in 1963 and is a token of Dodeigne’s work in modelling as it was originally made of plaster. This transitional piece heralded his work with wax and bronze. It also echoes the languid nudes that Dodeigne painted in parallel. In this bas-relief, he produced an image with depth, where a sensual nude emerges from the material.

Dodeigne’s large charcoal drawings are his other hallmark. They single him out as much as his stone sculptures do. They tell us a lot about how Dodeigne would work when wintry weather would make it difficult for him to cut stone. These drawings were preludes to sculptures. They were born in the excitement of modelling sessions in which Dodeigne would tirelessly sketch with charcoal on 75 x 106 cm sheets of paper. The drawings selected for this exhibition cover the period from 1976 to 1999. They are displayed for the first time. Dodeigne’s strokes are delicate and careful in his drawings from 1976 to 1978. Afterwards, they become more emphatic and natural. These drawings are works of art in their own right as much as they are studies.

In 2020, the La Piscine Museum in Roubaix, France, was due to present a Eugène Dodeigne retrospective. But the Covid pandemic compelled the museum to close its doors. Eventually, the exhibition was able to open: the public finally rediscovered a major artist and an oeuvre that is actually much less monolithic – both literally and figuratively – than we tend to assume. This event gave Dodeigne lasting prestige: that of an artist who was as essential as he was unique in France’s cultural scene in the second half of the twentieth century – and that of a master creator with a rightful place in history’s pantheon of sculptors. This exhibition at the Galerie Christophe Gaillard is a fresh, remarkable testimony to that monumental artistry.

Germain Hirselj

Eugène Dodeigne (1923-2015) was born in Belgium and became a naturalized French citizen when his parents moved to the North of France. Regularly exhibited in France and abroad, Eugène Dodeigne's works are held in numerous public collections (at the Fonds National d'Art Contemporain and the Musée National d'Art Moderne-Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, the LAAC in Dunkirk, the LAM in Villeneuve d'Ascq, the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Lille, the Fondation Maeght in Saint-Paul de Vence, etc. ) as well as in Algeria, England, Germany, Austria, Argentina, Belgium, the Netherlands, Switzerland and the United States, notably at MoMA in New York and the Smithsonian Institute in Washington. In 2020, the La Piscine museum in Roubaix dedicated a remarkable retrospective to the work of Eugène Dodeigne and presented sixty years of creation (Soignies stone, plasterwork, wood, bronzes, terracotta, drawings, paintings and furniture elements).
Germain Hirselj is an art historian and exhibition curator