It seems the greatest discoveries are always accidents. I was sharing the acquisition of a new sculpture with Peter Dominic and he said it reminded him of another sculptor and sent me an image. He was given permission to photograph the sculptures at an exhibit by La Fondation Taylor in Paris in April 1992. He shared many of his slides and forwarded whatever reviews he could find on the artist, Georges Guérard. Thanks also go to Christian for translating the text and thus saving me a lot of time.
Guérard (1909–1990) was born in Saint-Denis, France. He was the youngest of six children and orphaned while he was only 9 years old. His life after that reads like a Dickensian novel: first working hard labor in a trading house for some people in Groslay, near Montmorency and then to an orphanage, where he received blows more consistently than food. He was finally given a home by his elder brother, Robert, who was married and a roofer by trade in Le Havre. But he still had to earn his way at the tender age of 13. Unskilled at masonry, he did numerous odd jobs and in his few hours of rest, he taught himself sculpting, using his pocket knife to carve small figures in wood, chalk, barely-baked clay or other materials encountered on work sites during the day.
*The image above and number 9 below are of a girl named Christine. The model recently came forward to identify herself and to attempt to contact the artist’s son.
Another uncle Georges, also living in Le Havre, took notice of these little works and enrolled him in drawing and modeling courses at the School of Fine Arts in Le Havre. Showing promise, he studied under the tutelage of a Professor Doisy, a medal maker, and lessons took place every evening from 6pm to 10pm. But the next morning, he would still have to get up early and go to work to earn his keep. At age 17, Doisy decided to enter some of Guérard’s little medallions at the great Paris Salon of 1926 where he received an honorable mention. This distinction and his consistent beautiful work earned him a scholarship in 1927 and a membership to a society of French artists. Later that year, he took the entrance examination for the National School of Fine Arts in Paris and placed first, introducing him to the workshop of a renowned master, Jean Boucher.
Over the years, he gained acclaim with a number of prestigious awards but had his share of failures as well. Not conforming to the fashions of his time, he made it his express purpose to bring out the essential qualities of clarity and balance, whether in clay, stone or cast bronze. The best examples of this are his busts and portraits of children which capture the crisp character and emotion of each subject with an almost Hellenistic purity. He managed to make the best of his knowledge of tradition without being locked into any particular convention. He showed a true appreciation for children, not just as subjects for his art, but also as recipients of his charming visions in the form of bas-reliefs he produced for school groups.
Having had such a rough life himself, one might imagine that he demanded that his subjects tolerate the rigors of modeling without complaint. However, Guérard’s son, who was sometimes present at the 1992 retrospective, liked to share the tale of how his mother would keep the children entertained with stories while his father worked.
In his later years, he could be found dressed in a grey overall, hiding from the noisy stir of society outside, in an environment propitious for reflection. There he could create without considerations of being appreciated by the mass media, the scourge of his time—and ours.
Thanks go also to Roger B. Baron, whose personal account of a visit in 1981 gave us a real insight into the man.