'Impressions of the Boulevard: Woman with a Veil'

This three-minute audio clip describes the sculpture Impressions of the Boulevard: Woman with a Veil by Medardo Rosso (1858–1928).

Impressions of the Boulevard: Woman with a Veil

Impressions of the Boulevard: Woman with a Veil 1893

Medardo Rosso (1858–1928)

Estorick Collection, London

Full audio description text

This almost life-size bust of a female figure emerges out of a seemingly formless mass of wax and plaster. The wax has yellowed and discoloured over time, but still gives the buttery surface of the work an almost translucent quality. The form is soft and suggestive rather than cleanly defined, as indicated by the title of the work: Impressions of the Boulevard: Woman with a Veil. The sculpture was created by Medardo Rosso in 1893, and is the earliest piece owned by the Estorick Collection.

Mounted on a metre-high plinth, and enclosed within a display case, the figure's head is significantly bowed, at about 45 degrees, giving her a melancholy air. We can make out the brim of her elaborate bonnet, the shoulder pads of her close-fitting Victorian dress, and its tightly buttoned collar. In contrast to these prominent details, her facial features are blurred and smoothed away, to give the appearance of their being partially obscured by tulle or some other kind of gauzy material – though the veil itself has not been sculpted.

Unusually, the space immediately surrounding the figure has also been modelled, giving it tangible form, as if it were as solid as the figure itself.

A further distinctive feature is the fact that the work was intended to be viewed from a single perspective, frontally, and is not modelled in the round, like most sculptures. The back of the work has not been covered with wax, and its internal iron framework can be glimpsed here and there in the exposed plaster.

Rosso was an influential sculptor who worked between the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. He was admired by Rodin, but also by a slightly younger generation of Italian artists belonging to a movement known as Futurism, which was established in 1909. Works by members of this group are on display within the same gallery as Rosso's sculpture.

The Futurists prized Rosso's ability to capture transient impressions, such as this evocation of a chance encounter with an anonymous passer-by on a Parisian street. The leading Futurist artist, Umberto Boccioni, described Rosso as 'the only great modern sculptor.' He shared Rosso's interest in exploring the relationship between the figure and its environment, insisting that a sculpture should not only represent the subject itself, but also what he called 'those atmospheric planes which bind and intersect things.' In addition, he appreciated the spontaneity and freshness of the sculptor's technique, noting how 'the sensitive touch of the thumb, imitating the lightness of Impressionist brushwork, gives a sense of vibrant immediacy to his works.'

Art UK and VocalEyes

This audio description was created by VocalEyes for Art UK Sculpture, a national project to document and increase access to the UK's publicly owned sculpture. This description is one of 25 representing sculpture collections across the UK.

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