Défense du sol Statue by Henri Fugère
This 19th-century sculpture by French artist Henry Fugère (1872–1944), depicts a determined warrior, who stands ready for action, looking boldly ahead as he pulls his sword out of its sheath. The strength of the warrior is made even more convincing by Fugère’s skillful rendering of the figure’s musculature – every single muscle seems engaged. Fugère’s talent is equally evident in his depiction of the warrior’s thick locks of hair, his expressively furrowed brow, and the fur tied around his waist. The warrior stands, in roman sandals, on a bronze base where the Latin phrase Pro Aris et Focis is inscribed along the sides. This sentence, often associated with military troops, translates to “for altars and hearths”, which expresses the same sentiment as “for god and country.” The title of the work, Défense du sol (‘Defence of the Fatherland’), found on the plaque affixed to the wooden base of the sculpture, reflects this same theme of militaristic pride. A second inscription is found between the warrior’s feet. It reads Ao Captain C.T. Vogelgesang U.S.N. Escola Naval de Guerra Rio de Janeiro 1918. This description adds a unique history to the work, as it indicates that it was gifted to the captain Carl Theodore Vogelgesang (1869–1927), an American Rear Admiral in the United States Navy, who in 1918 was in Brazil as a senior member of the naval commission. Both a piece of American naval history and a masterful bronze sculpture, this piece is sure to be an excellent conversation starter!
At this time in France, the country was experiencing a period of time known as the Belle Époque, or “Beautiful Age.” This is a name that has been assigned to the period in retrospect, and refers to the years between the end of the Franco-Prussian War (1871), and the beginning of World War I (1914). Considered to be a European golden age, this period was characterised by peaceful relations and economic prosperity. Cultural, technological, and scientific innovations were plentiful, and the arts market flourished, due to the production of countless masterpieces in the fields of visual art, literature, theatre, and music.