Sleeping Faune

Jean-Joseph Carriès

14h x 13.50w x 9d in




Inventory Number: CAJ047

Size: 14h x 13.50w x 9d in

Material: Plaster with dark brown patina

Country of Origin: France 

Year Made: 1882

Status: Available

This plaster bust, covered with an artfully applied patina, is a glorious study of inner life and emotion. Tête de Faune is a testament to the artist Jean-Joseph Carriès technical achievements with sculpture, as well as a statement of his artistic vision.  


Jean-Joseph Carriès’ brief life and career were filled with tragedy and triumph over adversity; they stand as a testament to his artistic vision and unwavering determination. Born in Lyon in 1855 he was orphaned by the age of six when both his parents died of tuberculosis. At the age of thirteen, the Mother Superior at the orphanage, recognizing his talents and interest, apprenticed him to Pierre Vermare, a local sculptor responsible for some of the home’s religious works.  In 1874 he began academic training, with the encouragement of Vermare, at the Atelier Dumont in L’ecole des Beaux Arts where he attended--with varying dedication--classes for the next five years.  Although he exhibited at the Salon as early as 1875, it was not until 1881 that the public and critics began taking notice of his extraordinary talents.[i]

Although the visual evidence does not support the idea that La Tête de Faune is a self-portrait of the artist’s visage—Carriès’ nose and nostrils were broader, his face less pointed—critic Arsène Alexandre found it to be an emotional self-portrait nonetheless.[ii]

 “His strength,” he informed readers, “his joy and his worries are told in this statue. The force asserts itself in the vigor and the simplicity of this silhouette which seems to spring from the ground in front of you, ready to speak, ready to act.”[iii]  This sentiment accords with Carriès own statements regarding sculpture.  Quoted posthumously in The Strand Magazine, he stated: “Its aim is life—animation—drama.  To leave anything dormant is to the leave the stone as you found it, and to acknowledge the futility of your genius.”[iv] 

In La Tête de Faune, Carriès achieved that compelling sense of life—animation—drama not simply through the expression of the face, but with the very structure of the sculpture itself.  Unlike virtually every piece in the rest of his oeuvre, the faun rises directly out of the base.  There is no indication of neck, or body, or the anatomical markers that define his other portrait busts; it is as if we are witnessing more than the finished product of the sculptor and shown the very process of creation that brought it to life.   The sculpture does not sit on its base as much as it emerges from it, placing Carriès simultaneously in the roles of Apollo—the creator / God whose vengeance brought forth the donkey’s ears—and King Midas, a mere mortal whose crude preferences offended the God.   

Although there is no evidence that Carriès or his contemporaries ever used the title that The Getty Museum has given their example—Self Portrait as Midas (also called the Sleeping Faun)—the identification of the myth is correct. As recounted in Ovid, The Metamorphoses, book XI Midas, after convincing Dionysius to rid him of the Golden Touch, hated wealth, lived amongst the forests and fields, and became a follower of Pan.  According to the legend, Pan bragged about his music by slighting Apollo’s skills, a contest was arranged, and—with the exception of Midas who felt the decision unjust—all agreed with the God of the mountain and judge Tmolus that Apollo’s music was best.  As punishment for his obstinance, and in keeping with the irony often meted out by the Greek Gods, Apollo transformed Midas’s ears into those of an ass. 

By playing the roles of Apollo and Midas simultaneously in La Tête de Faune, Carriès concisely summarized his artistic credo in visual form.  On the one hand, he is Apollo, the God of the Arts, the artist who transforms—by metaphor and action—the world around him to give glimpses of truths that are beyond the scope of language and must inhabit form.  On the other, he is Midas, a man unconcerned with tangible wealth, who delights in the simple rustic pleasures of Pan’s music, whose crudeness is symbolized by his fondness for producing stoneware rather than the refined porcelains of the elite.  It is this combination of viewpoints, the high and the low, which is evident broadly throughout his career and is singularly crystalized in works like La Tête de Faune and the rustic simplicity of the japoniste stoneware he produced. 

La Tête de Faune is more than a bust. It is a testament to Carriès technical achievements with patina, a statement of his artistic vision, and—if read carefully—a deeply-moving, psychological self-portrait that defies easy description. It is all the things and yet more. Critic Arsène Alexandre eloquently summarized these difficulties as early as 1895 when he wrote:

La Tête de Faune, for example, is a vaguely heart-wrenching thing, of a penetration of melancholy, of appeasement perhaps, of calmed pain, which does not belong to the usual expressions and emanations of sculpture, always stopped and definable, so complicated or so slight as they are. The irregular construction of this long, leaning head, with closed eyes, thus deliberately and instinctively deformed, and accentuating a character which is wholly neither of suffering, nor of rest, nor of sleep, nor of death, is one of the most disturbing pieces of Carriès' work and one of the most disturbing of modern art. It is impossible and useless to say what it is.[v]


[i] Carriès biography is well-documented.  See for instance, Mathieu Néouze, Jean Carriès, 1855-1894 Sculpteur et Céramiste (Paris: Mathieu Néouze, 2016); Jean Carriès (1855-1894): Ou la Terre Viscérale (Auxerre: Musées d’Art et d’Histoire, 2007); Jean Carriès: La Matière de l’Etrange (Paris: Paris-Musées; N. Chaudun, 2007).

[ii] Versions of this work have been variously titled.  At the Musée d’Orsay, the bronze version is titled Faune (1893); at the High Museum it is referred to as The Sleeping Faun, while the Getty calls their cast Self Portrait as Midas (also called Sleeping Faun) but these appear to be modern inventions.  In the nineteenth century it was known as La Tête de Faune.  See: Arsène Alexandre, Jean Carriès: Imagier et Potier (Paris: Librairies-Imprimeries Réunies, 1895), 66, 88, and 93-4.

[iii] Alexandre, Jean Carriès, 94.

[iv] Ronald Graham, “Trousers in Sculpture,” The Strand Magazine 27 (January 1904): 76.

[v] Alexandre, Jean Carriès, 93.


Signed "Carriès 1882" and "Fondeur Bingen".

Bears a label marked: "California Palace of the Legion of Honor/ San Francisco 21 California/ EXHIBITION Permanent collection/ ARTIST Carries, Jean/ TITLE Head of a Faun/ REG NO 1950.41 DATE 12-28-50/ OWNER Gift of Mrs. A.B. Spreckels"

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