Étienne-Maurice Falconet

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Falconet, Étienne-Maurice


Born Dec. 1, 1716, in Paris; died there Jan. 24, 1791. French sculptor.

Falconet, the son of a joiner, carved wooden objects as a child. From 1734 to 1744 he studied under the sculptor J. B. Lemoyne in Paris. One of his first significant works was the sculptural group Milo ofCrotona, distinguished for its dramatic baroque expressiveness; a plaster model done in 1744 is housed in the Hermitage in Leningrad, while the work itself, executed in marble in 1754, is in the Louvre in Paris.

In the 1750’s and early 1760’s, Falconet created statues and sculptural groups of allegorical and mythological figures, for example, Pygmalion and the Statue (1763, the Louvre). He also designed sèvres biscuit statuettes, notably The Bather (1758, the Hermitage). From 1757 to 1766 he directed the sculpture workshop of the Sèvres porcelain factory. In works of this period, Falconet combined the sensuality of rococo with the purity of form typical of classicism.

Falconet most fully revealed his talent as a monumental sculptor during his stay in Russia (1766–78), where his main work was his monument to Peter I, created between 1768 and 1778 and erected on Senate Square in St. Petersburg (now Decembrists’ Square in Leningrad). The head of the emperor was modeled by Falconet’s pupil M. A. Collot.

The equestrian statue depicts Peter in the spirit of the 18th-century enlightenment as, in Falconet’s own words, “the creator, law-giver, and benefactor of his country.” A granite rock, modeled in the form of an ocean wave, serves as the pedestal. The powerful bronze figure of the rider, shown reining and rearing his galloping horse, is filled with heroic inspiration; it expresses both impetuous speed and solemn majesty. Falconet’s statue magnificently embodies the complex drama of a critical moment in Russian history, a time of powerful upsurge. The statue, immortalized in Pushkin’s narrative poem, has become famous as the Bronze Horseman.

An important feature of the statue is its subtle plastic diversity, which can be appreciated when the work is viewed from various angles. In this statue, his masterpiece, Falconet also demonstrated his ability to overcome technical difficulties; for example, the statue rests upon the horse’s hind legs and its tail, which is attached to a snake symbolizing the jealousy and intrigues of Peter’s enemies.

Falconet left Russia for Holland in 1778, not waiting for the unveiling of the monument (1782). In 1780 he returned to France, and during the last ten years of his life he was paralyzed and did not sculpt. Of special importance in Falconet’s legacy are his theoretical writings, which are closely linked with the aesthetics of the French enlightenment, mainly the works of D. Diderot.


Oeuvres, vols. 1–6. Lausanne, 1781; 3rd ed., Geneva, 1970.
In Russian translation:
In Mastera iskusstva ob iskusstve, vol. 3. Moscow, 1967.


Arkin, L. Mednyi vsadnik. Moscow-Leningrad, 1958.
Zaretskaia, Z. B. Fal’kone. Leningrad-Moscow, 1965.
Kaganovich, A. L. Mednyi vsadnik. Leningrad, 1975.
Levitine, G. The Sculpture of Falconet. Greenwich, 1972.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.