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Bourdelle was born at Montauban, Tarn-et-Garonne. He left school at the age of 13 to work as a wood carver in his father's cabinet making shop. He learned drawing with the founder of the Ingres Museum in Montauban, then sculpture at the art school in Toulouse. At the age of 24 he won a scholarship to the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, worked briefly in the atelier of Alexandre Falguière, and frequented the studio of Jules Dalou, who was his neighbor.
In 1888 he did his first sculptures of Beethoven, producing authoritative work with an emphasis on order, the spirit of geometry, construction and invention. He became one of the pioneers of 20th century monumental sculpture. Auguste Rodin became a great admirer of his work, and by September 1893 Antoine Bourdelle joined Rodin as his assistant where he soon became a popular teacher, both there and at his own studio where many future prominent artists attended his classes, so that his influence on sculpture was considerable.
During his last years, Bourdelle received several commissions for monuments and war memorials. He was a participant in the 1913 Armory Show in New York, a founder and vice-president of the Parisian Salon des Tuileries. In 1909 he was named Night of the Legion of Honor, in 1919 Officier of the Legion of Honor, and in 1924 became a Commander of the Legion of Honor. Bourdelle's son, Pierre Bourdelle (1903–1966), became an artist most active in the United States, notable for his work at Cincinnati Union Terminal in 1933.
Bourdelle's major work includes:
Today the Musée Bourdelle in Paris sits amidst brick houses at 18 rue Antoine Bourdelle, a small street between the Gare Montparnasse and the offices of the famous French newspaper Le Monde. The museum consists of Bourdelle's house, studio and garden where he worked from 1884 to 1929. A second Bourdelle garden-museum, in Égreville, was established by his heirs in the late 1960s hosts another 56 of his sculptures.
His work is also exhibited in public collections worldwide, including the Aichi Prefectural Museum of Art (Japan), the Cleveland Museum of Art, National Museum of Art of Romania, the Courtauld Institute of Art (London), the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna (Rome), Harvard University Art Museums, the Hermitage Museum, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden (Washington D.C.), the Honolulu Museum of Art, the Kimbell Art Museum (Fort Worth, Texas), Kröller-Müller Museum (Otterlo, Netherlands), the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes (Buenos Aires), the National Galleries of Scotland, the National Gallery of Australia, the Ingres museum in Montauban, the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, and the Middelheim Museum (Antwerp, Belgium)
Artists who studied with Antoine Bourdelle included:
For a first hand account of Bourdelle's teaching style see Arnold Ronnebeck's article from 1925, published in The Arts 8, no. 4 titled "Bourdelle Speaks to His Pupils: From a Paris Diary."
Day and Night, marble, 1903, Musée Bourdelle, Paris
The Sculptress at Work, 1906, bronze, Stanford Museum, Stanford University, California
Monument to Alvear Horse, Trammell Crow Sculpture Garden, Dallas, Texas
La Liberté, Daido Life Insurance Company, Osaka, Japan
The Virgin of Alsace, 1919–21, Edinburgh, Scotland
Bust of Jean Moreas, bronze, National Sculpture Garden, Athens, Greece
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