Jean-Baptiste Pigalle, (born Jan. 26, 1714, Paris,
France—died Aug. 21, 1785, Paris), French sculptor noted for
his stylistically varied and original works.
Born into a family of
master carpenters, Pigalle began training as a sculptor at
age 18 with Robert Le Lorrain and then studied with Jean-Baptiste
Lemoyne. After failing to win the Prix de Rome in 1735, he
studied independently in Rome at his own expense from 1736
to 1739. His most famous work is the statue Mercury
Attaching His Wings (1744), a classicizing work conveying
qualities of both graceful ease and youthful vitality.
Pigalle was made a member
of the Royal Academy in 1744; his reception piece was a
marble version of the Mercury. The statue became so popular
that Louis XV commissioned a life-size marble version of it
to present to Frederick II of Prussia in 1749. Pigalle was
appointed a professor at the Royal Academy in 1752.
Pigalle enjoyed the
patronage of Madame de Pompadour from 1750 to 1758. He
created several allegorical figure groups for her, such as
Love and Friendship (1758), with some statues bearing her
features in stylized form. He achieved considerable
popularity with several smaller decorative, sentimental
studies of children done in a Rococo style, such as the
Child with a Bird Cage (1750). He was also an original and
intelligent portrait sculptor, as is evident in his
forcefully observed bust of Diderot (1777) and in the Nude
Voltaire (1776), an anatomically realistic rendering of the
aged philosopher that caused a furor when first shown.
Pigalle’s two most important late commissions were the tomb
of the duke d’Harcourt (1769–76) and the grandiose and
theatrically effective tomb of the count de Saxe in
Strasbourg (1753–76). Stylistically, Pigalle had difficulty
combining his naturalistic tendencies with the conventional
classicizing formulas of the time, but his sculptures almost
always show qualities of daring, inventiveness, and charm.