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The Wave

This is the only clay sketch by Préault, a paradoxical outcome for a sculptor who was renowned for his enthusiastic thumb work. We do not know the title that Préault gave to this work, or whether it represents one of those water sprites evoked in the fantasy literature of the time. It is known that Préault did not favour small-scale objects, and so we can assume that this sketch was intended to be realised on a different scale. With the vase that she holds in her left hand, she is perhaps a minor divinity from the decorative figures of Fleuves [Rivers] imbued with a certain mystery, typical of this artist.

The front presents a nude woman in a strong contrapposto stance and a highly detailed, almost exaggerated, anatomical study of the musculature, modelled in the style of Michelangelo. Although in strong relief, the nude is stands out from the background: this too is worked in high relief, a technique in which Préault was particularly at ease. The movement of the wave is expressed as a swirling drapery passing over her head, more intensely defined at the back. The volutes of the water hint at the famous print by Hokusai and the decorative variations of Art Nouveau. But the wild passion, the almost caricatural heightening of the features, and the originality with which this decorative theme is treated, all serve to remind us of the unclassifiable nature of Préault’s art.

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