Museum no. A.30-1930
Famous throughout Europe, Canova was the last great pre-modern Italian sculptor. His reputation declined soon after his death in 1822, but was revived two hundred years after his birth in an exhibition at Rhode Island School of Design in 1957. This modernist school appreciated his austere formality, drained of blood: Canova was once described as 'born dead'. His nymph, inspired by a classical hermaphrodite, is both a symbol and a portrait: the model is reputed to be Madame Recamier, the celebrated society hostess, no hermaphrodite. Kenneth Clark complained that 'mechanical execution had removed the last tremor of excitement', but her cold beauty is intensely erotic.
Stephen Bayley, Guest Curator