One of the most prominent sculptors of the early Art Nouveau Period, Emmanuel Villanis was born in France on December 12th, 1858 to Italian parents. His mother Anna Lavioso and his father Antoine Villanis who was a lithographer encouraged their son’s creative talent from an early age. When he was 17 Villanis moved to Turin to study at the Accademia Albertina, under the guidance of Odoardo Tabacchi (1831~1905), a noted sculptor of the time. From 1881 until 1885, Villanis contributed to numerous exhibitions in Italy before settling in Paris in 1885 where in 1886 he contributed to the Salon des Artistes Français in the Palms des Champs-Elysées for the first time. For an artist of the nineteenth century it was of the utmost importance to exhibit at the Salon, as it was there that commissions were acquired and reputations made…
Villanis rapidly gained recognition and became known for his small-scale bronze busts, mostly depictions of female subjects, that blended the styles of traditional Neoclassicism with the elegant lines of Art Nouveau. Villanis’s depictions of the female form frequently featured elements of mythology and floral adornments through which he projected the suggestion of eroticism in his designs. His seeming obsession with female subjects, differed from the typical attraction of most artists and collectors of the time, Villanis wanted to immortalise the myth of the feminine in the eyes of the man, the elusive, evocative temptress who had spun so many webs around unwitting fellows; for Villanis women were not just objects of desire, to him they became creatures of heaven immortalised through his hands in bronze forever.
Following his rapid success in Paris, Villanis married Jenne Fournier Pelletier in 1887 to help him gain French naturalisation in order to secure a state commission which would cement his career as one of the great ones of the time. It is noted that their relationship was a distant one, and Villanis would lock himself away in his studio for days without seeing her. On January 30th 1904 his appeal for naturalisation was finally granted. Then in the same year on October 17th, he divorced his wife and six months later entered into a second marriage with young Johanna Maria Magdalena Huinck on 9th May 1904 - see photo below
Johanna had been a secret passion of Villanis for the years during his marriage to Jenne. He frequently drew her and used her as key muse, drawing from her finely woven features. Her face became Villanis's altar of passion and permeated through all his sculptures. Villanis’s relationship with beauty was fundamental throughout his life. It is important when studying his life and work, to consider what beauty was to him. It was this deep passion for beauty and form, combined with his talent as a sculptor that made Villanis unique in his own right. Not only was he able to capture incredible levels of realism in his bronzes, but most fascinating of all, for Villanis each work immortalised the soul of his subject.
“Beauty is not in the face; beauty is a light in the heart.” ― Kahlil Gibran
Many of his works depict famous heroines from literature and mythology, he was fascinated by the power of the female spirit to captivate the will of men. It was this passion to understand the forces of beauty and the divine that drove his practice, each one of his pieces was part of a deeply personal quest to capture the elusive quality of the divine feminine that held such provenance for him. It is this intimate love, almost religious in its worship of beauty that gave the subject of Villanis’s works such vitality and power, they exist with us as immortalised moments in time
- un moment donné.
“Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it.” Confucius