Getty exhibit focuses on talents of Dutch master
October 15, 1999
The J. Paul Getty Museum is devoting an exhibition to sculptor Adriaen
de Vries (1556-1626). "Adriaen de Vries: Imperial Sculptor" will
be on display through January 2000. This 68 7/8" bronze piece is entitled
"Triton," a Greek mythological character from the sea.
He was a master of composition. He also was a virtuoso artist who produced
brilliant bronze sculptures using a supremely difficult technique. He was
compared to Michelangelo in his time. Yet few people have heard the name
Adriaen de Vries.
The J. Paul Getty Museum is home to the last stop of de Vries' exhibit,
which is also the only stop in the United States. Titled "Adriaen de
Vries, Imperial Sculptor," the exhibit runs until January 9, 2000,
and demonstrates the considerable talents of this Dutch master.
"This major exhibition examining de Vries' achievement is long
overdue," said Peter Fusco, curator of European sculpture at the Getty.
Approximately 40 bronzes, as well as prints and drawings have been assembled
for display. Some of the subjects in the collection include ancient mythical
characters, scenes from the Old and New Testaments, and bold reinterpretations
of existing marble statues.
Running concurrently to the de Vries exhibition is "Foundry to
Finish: In the Studio of Adriaen de Vries," an exhibit that dissects
and analyzes the direct loss wax casting technique that he used to create
his bronze sculptures.
Each of the 13 phases to de Vries' method are explained with step-by-step
models. Coupled with X-ray photographs of de Vries' works and videos demonstrating
the actual casting process, the exhibit serves as a testament to the skill
that de Vries possessed to regularly succeed using the direct casting technique.
Jane Bassett, co-curator of "From Foundry to Finish," said,
"There is a record of a mistake in the pouring process, and the foundry
acknowledged that it was at fault rather than de Vries, so the foundry had
to compensate de Vries, who of course had to start over."
Peggy Fogelman, co-curator, said, "We can see from the finished
product that de Vries must have worked with very skilled foundries."
The "From Foundry to Finish" exhibit also showed the impossibility
of multiple copies of the bronzes using the direct casting technique.
The bronzes range from diminutive, highly detailed works to monumental
compositions with intertwined figures so complex that de Vries was the only
artist with the confidence and technical ability to create the sculptures
in a single pour. Other artists assembled their compositions from separate
De Vries' early works bear the earmarks of his Italian training, and
are composed for viewing from multiple angles. The masterfully proportioned
anatomy and careful attention to the most minute details present in his
initial works were crafted to suit the taste of his patron, Rudolf II.
Later in his career, de Vries strayed from earlier conventions, and
he abandoned the chiseled look for a softer, seemingly painted surface.
His later pieces were also physically larger.
A prime example of this style is his last known work, "Hercules
Pomarius." This large statue depicts Hercules after he has taken the
golden apples from the garden of Esperides. His hands and face show no marks
of the earlier attention to miniscule detail.
Hercules is also portrayed by de Vries as exhausted and battered after
his struggle, an innovative departure and challenge to classical style.
De Vries was not hesitant to challenge convention. In 1623 when de Vries
interpreted "Lacoön and His Sons," a work at that time often
copied identically by artists, he created a new composition for the subjects,
intertwining them in difficult positions. Incredibly, he created the bronze
in a single pour.
"His new composition was his way of challenging the antique,"
said Fusco, "pitting himself against the best of the best.
"He also did it in a single pour, so he was also technically challenging
One of de Vries' masterpieces, "Juggling Man" is based on
an ancient dancing faun statue done in marble. De Vries depicts a muscular
man in the act of juggling two plates, his torso twisting as his foot works
"The German phrase for juggling, 'Kunststücke machen' literally
translates to 'making a work of art'," said Fusco, "and the bellows
breathe life into the piece."
The bellows was also used in the 1500s and 1600s as a symbol of praise,
and perhaps de Vries is using it to indicate that the juggler and artist
deserve acclaim for their work.
De Vries (1556-1626) has remained a relative unknown in modern times,
but in his day his masterful bronzes gave him a reputation as one of the
finest artists in Europe. His work was so admired that illicit replicas
of his bronzes were being circulated during de Vries' lifetime.
There are multiple reasons that de Vries' reputation has diminished.
The nature of his direct lost wax casting technique only allowed for one
finished bronze per wax model he created, resulting in a dramatically lower
number of statues than possible with traditional mold casting methods. Additionally,
the majority of de Vries' works make their permanent residence in Stockholm
and Prague. Northern European cities are usually bypassed by art afficionados
in favor of more southern locations such as Paris and Florence.
Compounding problems was the Thirty Years War. Invading Swedish troops
looted Prague in 1648, and Denmark in 1659. De Vries' works were brought
back to Sweden, removing the bronzes from their original contexts.
Although only recently studied extensively, it has become clear de Vries
deserves to be considered one of the greatest sculptors of all time. His
technical ability, coupled with his keen sense of space and superb compositional
skill give his bronzes a quality that can be sensed even by the most casual
"De Vries accomplished for bronze sculpture what Gianlorenzo Bernini,
the greatest sculptor of the Baroque period, would later accomplish for
marble," said Fusco. "The exhibition will establish the importance
of de Vries' place in the history of art."
The Getty Museum can be reached from the University of La Verne by taking
the 10 freeway west to the 405 north and exiting on Getty Center Drive.
Admission is free, and parking is $5. Call (310) 440-7300 to reserve parking.