Joseph Félon

Polychrome terracotta statue – Nude female

Joseph Félon


Date : around 1866

Dimensions : H : 57 cm ; L : 25 cm ; P : 20 cm

place of production: Paris ( France )

Material : Polychrome terracotta

Condition : Good condition – SIgned - Restored

Conditions & disponibilité: Available


of work

Sculpture depicting a nude woman lying on a bed in the style of an odalisque - 'La vanité' (Vanity)

Polychromed terracotta statuette by Joseph Félon, depicting a nude woman languidly reclining on a bed. Resembling an odalisque, she lies on her stomach with her left leg bent, seemingly awakening.

According to our research, this work by Joseph Félon was very likely exhibited at the 1866 Salon de Peinture et de Sculpture as an allegory of Vanity.

Although treated in an academic manner, the artist’s remarkable attention to realism is especially evident in the polychromy. This meticulous detail is visible in the model’s flesh tones, nipples, and pubic hair, revealing Félon’s intent to portray a certain reality.

This work may express the aesthetic tensions of the time, subjected to the reign of academicism and its constraining formalism.

With its characteristic proportions, the depicted model perfectly embodies Joseph Félon’s style and his neoclassical treatment of the female form. As evidenced by many of his works, both in painting and sculpture (The Seasons, Nymph Tormenting a Dolphin, Andromeda), the female bodies in Félon’s art are slender and firm, endowed with long and graceful limbs that impart a general impression of elegance and strength.

However, in this particular sculpture, one cannot help but notice a certain heaviness of the body, coupled with a voyeuristic element in the pose adopted. Typically, Félon represents female bodies as allegories, as seen in the decorations of the Louvre Palace (Prudence and Strength, Justice and Fraternity). To illustrate Vanity, he chooses here to reveal, in minute detail, the languorous body of a woman uncovering herself with feigned modesty, confident in her beauty.

Preparatory drawing for the sculpture "La vanité
Reclining nude woman seen from behind - Joseph Félon - Preparatory drawing in black stone

..."Un océan de soie, de parfums et de sons, La langoureuse Asie et la brûlante Afrique, Tout un monde lointain, absent, presque défunt, Vit dans tes profondeurs, forêt aromatique !"... Charles Baudelaire - la Chevelure - Fleurs du mal

Joseph Félon

Bordeaux (France) 1818 - Antibes Juan-les-Pins (France) 1897

Joseph Félon, born in Bordeaux on August 22, 1818, is a figure in 19th-century French academic art. A pupil of Pierre Lacour fils and working with the engraver Gaspard de Galard, he honed his skills in painting and engraving from a young age. Admitted to the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris in 1839, Félon distinguished himself in multiple artistic disciplines, including painting, sculpture, and lithography. His career commenced with works exhibited at the Salon as early as 1840, where he presented a self-portrait and a plaster statuette.

In 1857, Félon made his mark as a designer of stained glass for the church of Sainte-Perpétue et Sainte-Félicité in Nîmes. This experience enabled him to master glass painting, leading to notable works such as the restoration of the stained glass window of the Holy Name of Jesus at the church of Saint-Étienne-du-Mont in 1864. He continued with creations for the church of Saint-Séverin in 1865 and other significant restorations in Paris until 1874. Félon became an honorary member of the Corporation of Stained Glass Artists in 1879, recognizing his expertise in this field.

In addition to his stained glass achievements, Joseph Félon left a lasting imprint in sculpture and painting. His works adorn prestigious locations such as the Richelieu Pavilion of the Louvre Palace, featuring allegorical sculptures like Justice and Fraternity, and Truth and History. At the Sorbonne, the church of Sainte-Élisabeth, and Saint-Étienne-du-Mont, his sculptures add aesthetic and symbolic dimensions. Among his most renowned creations are the statue Nymph Riding a Dolphin in the Jardin des Plantes in Paris and the statue of Science at the Château des Ducs de Savoie in Chambéry, testifying to his mastery and versatility.

In painting, his canvas Nymph Huntress, housed at the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Bordeaux, showcases his talent and sense of composition. After relocating to the South of France in 1884, Félon continued contributing to the art world, becoming a curator at the Museum of Paintings in Cannes and a professor at the École des Arts Décoratifs in Nice. A contemporary of renowned artists such as Jean-Léon Gérôme and Alexandre Cabanel, Félon navigated an artistic realm dominated by the academic style, characterized by meticulous detail and technical prowess.

Joseph Félon passed away in Antibes Juan-les-Pins on March 6, 1897, leaving behind a rich and diverse artistic legacy marked by his dedication in multiple art forms. His works is present in numerous prestigious venues.

the work

in its context

The Academic Art movement of the 19th century in Europe is distinguished by its idealized approach to the human body, particularly that of women. Academic painters sought to portray an ideal and flawless beauty, often devoid of any imperfection, in accordance with the aesthetic standards of the time. This idealized conception of the female body is remarkably exemplified in iconic works such as Alexandre Cabanel’s The Birth of Venus where the female figure is presented with sublimated sensuality and divine grace. In this painting, exhibited at the Salon of 1863 and now housed in the Musée d’Orsay, Venus’s body is depicted with controlled sensuality, reflecting the ideal of physical perfection sought after by academic artists.

The idealization of the female body in Academic Art extends beyond mere aesthetic representation; it also conveys ideas and socio-cultural values of the time. Indeed, the academic woman often embodies concepts such as purity, virtue, and idealized femininity, in accordance with the morality norms of 19th-century society. Thus, academic works feature elegant women with perfect proportions, moving within mythological or historical settings, thereby reinforcing the notion of timeless and universal beauty.

Alexandre Cabanel ( Montpellier 1823–1889 Paris) - The birth of Venus (1875) - Oil on canvas - The MET
Alexandre Cabanel ( Montpellier 1823–1889 Paris) - The birth of Venus (1875) - Oil on canvas - The MET / The initial rendition of Cabanel's "The Birth of Venus" (Musée d'Orsay, Paris) caused quite a stir at the Salon of 1863, dubbed the "Salon of the Venuses" due to the abundance of alluring nudes on display. Napoleon III acquired the Salon's painting for his personal collection. In 1875, New Yorker John Wolfe commissioned the current, slightly smaller replica from Cabanel.

The advent of the realist movement in the mid-19th century marks a turning point in the representation of the female body in art. Unlike the idealization inherent in Academic Art, realist artists turn towards a more authentic and truthful representation of reality, including that of the female body. Thus, the treatment of the female body in realism is characterized by a more naturalistic approach, far from the standards of idealized beauty prevalent in Academicism.

Artists such as Gustave Courbet, with his famous painting “The Origin of the World,” or Edouard Manet with “Luncheon on the Grass,” break taboos by representing the female body in a raw and direct manner. These works, some of which were long hidden and others a source of scandal, shock with their frankness and stark realism, yet they express a radical shift in how the female body is perceived and depicted in art. With realism, the female body ceases to be an idealized figure and becomes a subject of realistic contemplation, reflecting the diversities and realities of the female condition.


  • Paris, Musée du Louvre –  Blanche Félon et sa fille – Bronze
  • Evreux, musée d’Art Histoire et Archéologie – Les trois grâces – Pierre noire et aquarelle sur papier
  • Nîmes, musée des beaux-arts – Andromède – sculpture en bronze

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