FALCONET, Étienne-Maurice
(b. 1716, Paris, d. 1791, Paris)


French sculptor and writer on art, a pupil of Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne. Falconet was perhaps the most quintessentially Rococo of all French sculptors, his forté being gently erotic figures such as the celebrated Bather (1757) in the Louvre. Like many other of his works, this was reproduced in porcelain by the Sèvres factory, of which he was director from 1757 to 1766, a position that he gained through the influence of his patron Mme de Pompadour.

Falconet had other sides to his talent, however, and his masterpiece - the equestrian statue of Peter the Great in St. Petersburg - is in a completely different vein. He went to Russia in 1766, recommended to Catherine II by Diderot, and left in 1778, the statue being unveiled in 1782. The huge horse is represented with its forelegs raised and unsupported - a daring technical feet - and the heroic vigour of the statue gives it a place among the greatest examples of the type.

Falconet suffered a stroke in 1783 and thereafter produced no more sculpture, devoting himself to writing. A six-volume edition of his writings had already appeared in 1781 and in 1761 he had published his best-known literary work, Réflexions sur la sculpture. In this he was one of the first to argue that the modern artists were superior to those of the ancient world. (It is significant that unlike most of his distinguished contemporaries he never saw the need to visit Italy.)