Circa 1900: An Art and Humanities Resource

Art Social Studies | Grade 6

Expressive Clay Busts

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At 15, Antoine Bourdelle (1861-1929) saw an engraved portrait of Beethoven and recognized a visual resemblance in himself and a kindred spirit. Inspired by Beethoven’s music, Bourdelle made over 80 sculptures of the composer along with sketches and finished drawings. He worked with and was influenced by Auguste Rodin who is considered the father of modern sculpture, and later in life Bourdelle taught the next generation of expressive sculptors including Alberto Giacometti. You can trace the evolution of modern sculpture through the works of these three artists: Rodin to Bourdelle to Giacometti. One of the primary characteristics of this evolution was expressing emotion through sculpture.


  • Explore Bourdelle’s sculpture of Beethoven.
  • Identify how artists influence each other as friends and mentors.
  • Learn how emotion is expressed in sculpture.


  • Materials
  • PowerPoint presentation
  • Emotion cards
  • Small boards for sculpture bases
  • Air dry clay
  • Tools to work clay (clay wire, toothpicks, etc.)

Related Artwork

Show Bourdelle’s Beethoven: The Tragic Mask and give students time to study it. Discuss using the following questions:

  • What do you see? Describe the facial features.
  • Is this person young or old? Why?
  • What kind of clothing is he wearing?
  • How do you think this sculpture was made?
  • How did the artist create the texture?
  • Is there more detail in some areas than in others? What are these details?
  • What kind of emotion is the artist trying to convey?

Studio Procedure

  1. Place the emotion cards in a box or hat and have each student select one.Each student receives a block of air dry clay and a board to use as a sculpture base.
  2. Place clay on the board and sculpt shoulders and a head to create a bust, keeping the clay in one piece as they work it.
  3. Using their fingers and any tools provided, students create an expression that conveys the emotion they selected. It does not have to be lifelike, but must convey emotion using shape, texture, etc.
  4. Leave sculptures out to dry and harden.
  5. Portrait busts can be made with a magazine collage as an alternative.

Artist Influence

  1. Display Rodin’s Pierre de Wissant from the Burghers of Calais (1890), Bourdelle’s Beethoven: The Tragic Mask (1901), and Giacometti’s Bust of Annette IV (1962). Give students time to examine each image individually before displaying all three together.
  2. Discuss using the following questions:
    • What do you see in each sculpture? How are they alike and how are they different?
    • What did each artist use to create the texture of the sculpture?
    • How do the personal relationships of the artists affect the sculptures? How could they have influenced each other?

This resource is made possible in part by a grant from Humanities Texas, the state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities.