Tragic Mask of Beethoven

Emile Antoine Bourdelle


Hayden Library, 2nd Floor (Building 14S)
Humanities Library

In Tragic Mask of Beethoven, the scarred modeling, roughly handled surfaces, strong shadows, and gross anatomical deformations show a clear debt to Rodin, Bourdelle’s mentor and major influence. Bourdelle completed the Tragic Mask of Beethoven in April 1901. It was his fourth finished sculpture in his lifelong series of Beethoven sculptures. Bourdelle made of the composer a sort of alter ego who embodied the sculptor’s own will and struggle to create.

He produced forty-five studies in sculpture as well as numerous paintings, drawings, and pastels, between 1887 and 1929, the year of his death. Until 1903 he concentrated on heads of the composer, but subsequently produced full-length figures as well. Bourdelle wrote in January 1903, that he aimed to present in his sculptures of Beethoven “the quality of the undulations of the gestures and of the sounds of the master’s thought.” The tormented surface of scratches, gouges, lumps, and ridges becomes the external manifestation of Beethoven’s internal condition. The closed eyes and absence of ears indicate his intense self-absorption and distance from the sensations and distractions of the outside world. The elongated and twisted face, contorted and trench-like mouth, heaving brow, writhing hair, and the unbalanced perch of the head upon the neck communicate the titanic struggle of Beethoven to realize in music the vision which grips his entire being.

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28.5 in. x 19 in. x 17 in. (72.39 cm x 48.26 cm x 43.18 cm)