A shirtless man, wiping his forehead with his wrist, and in the other hand, a sickle, a sign of work. Whether it concerns workers or peasants, Paul Richer has a keen sense of observation and a clear talent as a designer. Unknown to the general public, this neurologist born on January 17, 1849 in Chartres (Eure-et-Loir), set out through his studies in terracotta or plaster to reproduce the gesture and anatomy of his models.
As evidenced by his “Great Reaper”, unveiled for the first time since 1934, Paul Richer is considered one of the best designers and illustrators of human anatomy of his time. His work is at the end of this year and next year the subject of an “exhibition of national interest” at the Museum of Fine Arts in Chartres (Eure-et-Loir), where part of his studies are preserved.
“Paul Richer works from nature,” explains Grégoire Hallé, the curator of the Chartres museum, “in particular for this work where we see a peasant named Pierreux. In 1903, he became a professor of anatomy at the Paris School of Fine Arts. He will make entire books of anatomical plates for students. He knows the human body perfectly. » In the chapel of the Museum of Fine Arts in Chartres, an unclassifiable work opens the exhibition: the “First Artist, Age of Cut Stone” (1890), a statue which represents a prehistoric man carving a mammoth, the premise of the ‘art.
By exhibiting around fifty works, produced between 1889 (“The Great Reaper” recently restored by artisans from Luisant) and 1903, the date of execution in Sèvres sandstone of the “Lumberjack of the Londe Forest”, a work in coming from the Musée de la Piscine in Roubaix, the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Chartres intends to restore the image of this almost forgotten citizen of the city.
No street in Chartres bears the clinician’s name. However, two works are visible in the public space: “It was he who made the Pasteur monument, opposite the prefecture, and that of Gabriel Maunoury, which on the corner of the Hôtel-Dieu,” reveals Grégoire Hallé, who has been working on the exhibition for two years. Like his contemporaries Jules Dalou, Constantin Meunier and Auguste RodinRicher worked on a way to promote Work in public space.
Paul Richer was a friend of Jules Dalou, of whom he was one of the executors of his will. Their styles coincide. Their works are compared throughout the exhibition and prove the strong bond between the two men. “We also have loans from prestigious museums like Orsay”, such as this drawing showing a reaper on a base, points out Isabelle Vincent, deputy for Culture and Heritage.
The exhibition also aims to show the importance given by the artist to the decorative character of his work: several dishes, small bronze reliefs or vases, like this “Vase with drinker” (around 1898) from a collection special, for many unknowns are to be seen. “These are works that have been in our reserves since 1934 and which have never been shown to the public,” enthuses the curator. “As in many provincial museums,” adds Isabelle Vincent, “the collections may seem eclectic but contain real treasures. The goal is to present them to the public. »
Labeled “Exhibition of national interest”, “the only one in the Centre-Val de Loire region”, insists the elected official, the meeting should attract the curious crowd: “It is a recognition of scientific work, it is an image and an influence”. The exhibition will take place in two parts. The second “In the flesh” (from March 16, 2024 to June 16, 2024) will focus on another facet of Paul Richer. That of the soldier doctor who, during the war of 1870, brought aid to the wounded in the battle of Loigny-la-Bataille (Eure-et-Loir), south of Chartres. While assisting a surgeon, he then made numerous sketches of wounded soldiers.
“The new heroes. Paul Richer and the sculpture of work” from September 23 to December 31, 2023, at the Chartres Museum of Fine Arts (Eure-et-Loir), 29, Notre-Dame cloister. Price €7 and €3.50. Information about www.chartres.fr