This sculpture depicts Le Triomphe de Silene, or “The Tripumph of Silenus,” by Albert-Ernest Carrier-Belleuse (1824-1887). Silenus was the companion and tutor of the wine god Dionysus, who had the gift of prophecy. He is depicted as an old man “lolling drunkenly” on an donkey, leading the triumphal procession of Dionysos. Silenus is sometimes flanked by an entourage of satyrs. However, in the case of the present sculpture his retinue is comprised of nymphs and drunken putti.
Carrier-Belleuse was one of the most versatile and prolific 19th century French sculptors, his body of work encompassing portrait busts, decorative wares and public monuments. His oeuvre represents a great example of the stylistic diversity of the 19th century in that it ‘incorporated a variety of styles and influences including naturalism, Realism, neo-Baroque, and Rococo’.
Carrier began his career working for such French firms as Denière and Paillard creating models based on historical and mythological subjects. Between 1850-1855 he was in England where he worked largely for Minton China Works, creating Parian models with faint Rococo influences. Back in Paris, Carrier established his own workshop in Paris which, by the mid 1860s, had expanded significantly. It was during this time he took on August Rodin as his chief assistant. Many of Carrier-Belleuse’s terracotta sculptures were done in multiple versions and in different media. Unlike working in bronze, terracotta provides the sculptor the opportunity to make last minute alterations to the piece. His formative years working in ceramic manufactories gave Carrier particular insight into the casting, modeling and firing methods, and allowed him “to introduce innovations in designs and process.” His sculptures both reflect his understanding of the technical and aesthetic aims of his 18th century predecessors, and contain a 19th century naturalistic quality in the rendering of his subjects and “a more painterly approach to sculpture” that departed from the sober neoclassical style.
Today Carrier’s works are represented in the world’s leading museums including the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Musee du Louvre, the Art institute of Chicago and the National Gallery of Australia, to name but a few. A closely related version of the present sculpture, circa 1870s, can be found in the High Museum, Atlanta, where it is given the title “The Drunkenness of Bacchus.”