CLÉMENCE-SOPHIE DE SERMEZY
(Lyon 1767-1850 Charentay)
Venus Consoling Cupid
26 x 25 x 13.5 cm
Signed and dated on the base: juin 1825 / M de Sermez
Bears an inscription in Greek : “I’m lost, mother, he said / I’m lost and I’m dying”
Clémence-Sophie Daudignac was born into a family influential in Lyon society. Her father was Directeur des Octrois (tax collector) of the city and her uncle closely linked to the father of Juliette Récamier, one of the most prominent female figures of the Revolution and the Empire, and whose bust was sculpted by Madame de Sermézy in 1805 (plaster, Musée des Beaux-Arts in Lyon).
Her marriage in 1791 to an officer, Marc Antoine Noyel de Béreins, Comte de Sermézy, ended cruelly with his death during the troubled time of the French Revolution.
Madame de Sermézy was quite erudite, and spoke several languages. The Greek or Latin inscriptions—some of them humorous or having a double meaning—with which she decorated her terracotta sculptures are a testimony to her status as a woman of letters.
In the mid-1790s, she benefited by being taught by her illustrious compatriot Chinard and, from her studio on the Place Bellecour, presided over one of the most aristocratic meeting places of the city, hosting all of Lyon’s principal artists and art lovers, among them Fleury Richard and Pierre Révoil, thanks to whom we know what our sculptress looked like (P. Révoil, Propertia (with the Features of Madame de Sermézy), Musée des Beaux-Arts, Lyon). Madame Récamier, the actor Talma, and Madame de Staël also visited her, making her influence in the city even greater.
During the One Hundred Days—the attempt by Napoléon to return to power, ending in his defeat at Waterloo—her studio was ransacked because of her attachment to the Royalist cause and the return of the Bourbons. This gallery showroom, composed only of her work, essentially in terracotta, housed most of her works as she was not in the habit of selling them.
Even if the refinement and delicacy of her small groups of figures are reminiscent of the creations of the Ancien Régime—those by Pajou, Clodion and Marin—Madame de Sermézy was part of the Neoclassical movement led by Canova, Chaudet and Chinard.
She was also interested in historical subjects (1824, Lady Consoling a Page, Musée du Petit Palais, Paris), religious as well as family scenes—happy like Man with a Little Girl on his Knees (1824, MBA, Lyon), The Chess Game (1821, Lyon, Musée des Arts Décoratifs et des Tissus), and unhappy like Figure Kneeling on a Tombstone (1827, Lyon, Musée des Beaux-Arts) and the very moving model for the tomb of her daughter, Marguerite. (1810, MBA, Lyon).
It was also in the mid-1820s that she increased the number of small sculpted figures she made, foreshadowing the statuettes that were so fashionable during the Romantic period
For our group in terracotta, Madame de Sermézy chose a mythological subject, continuing the tradition of sculpture that she had learned Chinard: the classically draped tunic reminiscent of Greek chitons, the stool on which she is seated, its base in the form of dolphins framing a broad shell, and a hair style again recalling Antiquity. The treatment is precise, nervous and detailed, attesting to the great technical mastery attained by its author.
The interplay of their expressions—that of Venus full of gentleness, Cupid of great annoyance—and the tenderness of the consoling embrace, announcing the more sentimental vein of the Romanticism that was in its early years, a work by an artist at the crossroads of influences and artistic movements in France under the Restauration.
The greek inscription on the base of our group provides information on the subject. It represents Cupid Stung by a Bee. This subject is in the Anacreontic vein, that is, celebrating the powers and dangers of Love, a very frequent theme in the arts since the 18th century. More precisely, Madame de Sermézy depicted Ode XL of the Poems by Anacreon and Sapho when Venus explains the pain of his arrows compared to a simple wasp sting:
“Love, wishing to cut what looked to his eyes, / To be a just-opened rose from a bush./ A Bee flew out, stinging his hand./ He let out a soft cry, shed tears and sped off / To find the Queen of Cythera. / I can’t bear it, said he, mother, I’ve been hurt,/ By a small, winged serpent,/ Who by workers is called a bee./ My son, said Venus to him, laughing at his Adventure,/ You can’t even suffer a bee sting to your finger./ You are crying, you think you are mortally wounded./ By this, judge all that must be endured /By a heart pierced by one of your arrows.”