Beethoven: The Tragic Mask

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Antoine Bourdelle

Beethoven: The Tragic Mask, 1901


Collection of the Tobin Theatre Arts Fund


When Bourdelle was 18, he saw an engraved portrait of Beethoven. Not only did he think he shared a physical resemblance to the composer, but he also felt a spiritual connection and said he “heard” sculptures in Beethoven’s music. In 1888, Bourdelle began the first of a series of sculptures and drawings of Beethoven. These initial works were conventional, yet still showed the progressive influence of Rodin, often called the Father of Modern Sculpture. In 1901, Bourdelle had a breakthrough with this larger-than-life bronze sculpture. In Tragic Mask, Beethoven’s features are distorted and composed of heavy shapes and masses. It was considered emotional, tumultuous, explosive, passionate, dramatic, and even shocking. It was a distinct departure from the Neoclassical and Romantic influences that dominated sculpture at the time, and it pushed sculpture towards modern art.