Seen by his peers

Jules Romains

Writer, author of La Main et l’Esprit (The Hand and Spirit) a major work on Landowski’s œuvre. L’Aurore, 1961 (…) Paul Landowski has just passed away. I don’t believe the public have granted this event the importance it deserves, nor have we sufficiently helped them. Indeed, I have not grown so out of touch with present-day customs not to realize that the death of the greatest sculptor of our time (in every country) is far from being as newsworthy as a football champion’s sprained ankle or a star’s latest love affair. Nevertheless, it’s worth remembering that Landowski’s monumental works stand all over the world, from Brazil to China to Algeria as well as in our homeland; that this universal presence of one of the most elevated forms of French art is not indifferent to the prestige of France; and that it would be unjust to make Landowski posthumously pay for the scorn he showed while alive for the sollicitations of fashion or charlatans.

Fernand Gregh

Poet and writer, member of the Académie Française, Paris-Comoedia, December 16, 1953  Paul Landowski Sculpted his Bible (..) It can’t be said enough that Paul Landowski’s Door of the New Medical School is one of the most important displays of sculpture today. Nowadays, we have a tendancy to consider art as a purely playful activity, which is what the fragmentary statuary that is currently predominant is worth to us. Yet, statuary springs from architecture; it is the embellishment and perhaps even the support of it. Landowski had this monumental conception of his art in mind when he created the bronze door, yet another display of the resources of his talent. (…) I don’t see many sculptors today who could have made an ensemble as complete and noble, one which inevitably makes us think of Ghiberti’s Baptistry in Florence. (…) We must recognize beauty where it is. It is also present in the great figure which the same Landowski kneeled in the Salle Hypostyle of the Columbarium of Pere-Lachaise. (…) In this magnificent composition, there is something calm, natural and inevitable about death that can at least ease the minds of – if not console – those who pass by it to collect the ashes of their loved ones. It’s impossible to treat such a subject with greater magnanimity and tenderness.

Eugène Stoliaroff

Excerpt from Eugène Stoliaroff’s journal (1899-1986)  22 June, 1922. It turns out that in Paris, having a good body really pays off. At any rate, it’s brought me two things: money and the most beautiful woman I ever laid eyes on. On the shoot for the film La Maison du Mystère, I was playing a boxer so I had a bare chest. When the shoot was over, a young woman came up to me. Turns out she was a sculptress in Ermolieff’s sculpture studio. As we were talking, she asked me, ‘‘Haven’t you ever posed for a sculptor? You know, with a body like yours, you could make a good living as a model.’’ As I walked her home, we continued to talk about Sappho and the world of sculpture in Paris. We said goodbye and promised to get together again so she could introduce me to her teacher, a well-known sculptor who was actually looking for a model for a monument that the French government had commissioned to commemorate the young people who died in the last war. ‘‘I think he’ll pay you very well.’’ I’d already done a lot of things in my life when I started my new career as a model.
The sculptor, a certain Landowski, a Frenchman of Polish origin, turned out to be a charming man. It seemed a little strange to undress in front of him, but when he saw me, he exclaimed, ‘‘This is exactly what I need!’’ He was disappointed when I told him I wasn’t a professional model and so I wouldn’t be available for him all day long for a whole month, but finally we reached an agreement. I’m going to phone to let him know I’m free then come pose for him in my spare time. He pays me ten francs an hour. Not bad! Landowski’s really a great artist! It’s no surprise he’s so famous in Paris. He’s got this amazing way of instantly translating the tiniest muscle and least little indent of a human body into clay. It’s extraordinary how he works while humming the latest popular tunes. He’s very focused, like in a state of meditation, literally inspired by what he’s doing. I’ve been told he leads quite the life of debauchery. Strange for such a creative man. The idea of the monument is also great: five figures looming up from the ground with their eyes closed. Four of them wear uniforms and soldiers’ helmets. Each face is different. One very serious with gaunt cheeks, the other with a naïve almost childish expression, the third with a peach fuzz mustache – the loyal expression of a youth called to arms. Finally the fourth one has a fierce expression, that of a man turned savage by war. He makes me think of the soldiers of the red army who can chop a man up into pieces as they revel in the smell of fresh blood. And finally the fifth one, me, a naked figure that symbolizes the soul of the other four, head tilted back, eyes closed, in an upward movement as if ascending to heaven. The features of the face are a little vague but they express the beginnings of torment. At the same time, the figure symbolizes a reproach of mankind.
For this figure, Landowski wasn’t looking for some kind of Hercules with big bulging muscles. He wanted something else. A perfectly proportioned, young and handsome body, and he looked for this a long time. I didn’t realize I had those qualities. I knew I had a good body, but I didn’t know I had the ideal proportions for sculptors, although, in this country of physical degeneration, the young people here aren’t so well-off. Landowski tells me that the monument is going to be exhibited next year at the Salon and he says if it turns out to be a success, part of that will be mine.
People are constantly visiting his studio and these endless visits really make him angry because everybody distracts him while he’s working. Nevertheless, they predict his work will be a smashing success. Painters and sculptors come to observe his work, prominent diplomats commission him to do their own busts. And even women of the world, so-called art lovers, come to the studio to check me out from every angle. The first few times, I felt horribly uncomfortable, but now I’m used to it and even feel proud when I notice the admiration in some of their eyes. I’m not sure how to express this feeling: it’s as if my body puts them in my control. It’s a very sophisticated pleasure but it’s barely perceptible. When it happens, I feel like a king before their flabby bodies, paunches and sloping shoulders.
My Landowski is very proud of me but he’s worried someone will make me a better offer and I’ll have less time to pose for him. He doesn’t need to be worried, he pays me very well. In general, a model gets three or four francs an hour. Models aren’t very highly cultured people. Quite often, the women are simply ‘tarts’ trying to make ends meet. Then there’s the category of those who only pose for their friends, like Carpentier or the famous Denise, and of course they don’t do it for money. They don’t need it. The monument is intended to commemorate the place where a big battle took place, somewhere on the border between France and Germany, I’m not sure where exactly. I’d really like to go to its inauguration, but I’m especially interested in it being exhibited at the Salon next year. Landowski promised me a part of the prize if it wins. It’s a huge amount, one or two thousand francs. I’m sorry he wants to make the group bigger by adding another four clothed figures. He says it will increase the symbolic power but I think it will only be distracting.
It was at Landowski’s that I met a woman whose name I still don’t know. She was a well-known model before she became the mistress of a wealthy American. But she’s just broken up with him and came to Landowski’s asking for work. When she arrived, after the usual ‘‘how are you’s’’, she began checking me out from head to toe, without the least bit of respect. Then she sat down in an armchair just two steps away from me to chat with Landowski, telling him all the latest Paris gossip while shooting me a look here and there. Landowski was called to the phone. She dropped a sketch she was holding and when she leaned over to get it, looked me straight in the eyes with a burning look, her lips parted. I don’t know if she was doing it on purpose. Her face had a beatific expression. Then she leaned back against the armchair, lifted her arm and gave a big stretch. Her snug dress clung to her curves. My head was absolutely spinning and I had to put my robe back on because I’d become indecent. Then Landowski came back. She struck a more natural pose and  told me, ‘‘I’ll be waiting for you tonight at La Rotonde.’’ She left shortly after that. ‘‘What do you think? She’s beautiful!’’ Landowski cried. ‘‘She’s as well built as you are, she could have had a great career is she wasn’t so temperamental.’’ He kept talking but I wasn’t listening anymore. I kept seeing the way she looked at me, her long legs, her laughing eyes, that almost cynical straightforwardness she provoked me with.