Carrier-Belleuse portrays a wrenching struggle between woman and beast in this abduction scene from Greek myth. The inebriated centaur, a guest at the wedding feast of Hippodamia and the Lapith king, grabs the young bride, pinning her to his side and setting off a battle between the human Lapiths and the wild centaurs. Hippodamia is rescued, but the episode starts a greater war between the two factions. In the end, the Lapiths triumph and the centaurs retreat to the mountains. With its classical references (the wedding garlands worn by both figures and the overturned wine jar), nineteenth-century viewers would have recognized the story—a motif for the moral struggle between rationality and bestiality, between civilized behavior and primitive instincts.
With his Abduction, Carrier-Belleuse introduced an extraordinary neo-baroque dynamism to a classical subject. He captured the figures at the moment of highest tension: the centaur seems to explode as he turns and thrusts both up and back, while Hippodamia twists and stretches, forcing energy out from the center.
Scholars speculate that while the sensuous, long-limbed Hippodamia is characteristic of Carrier-Belleuse's female nudes, the overall expressive intensity of the sculpture—particularly the centaur's bulky musculature and bellowing mouth—reflect the energetic modeling of Auguste Rodin. Carrier-Belleuse employed Rodin in his studio in the 1870s; it is very possible that the younger artist contributed to this work.
More information on this object can be found in the Gallery publication European Sculpture of the Nineteenth Century, which is available as a free PDF https://www.nga.gov/content/dam/ngaweb/research/publications/pdfs/european-sculpture-19th-century.pdf
incised in model beside urn on self-base and enhanced after casting: CaRRIER-BEllEUSE (mixed block and cursive characters); embossed in the model, on title plaque on self-base: L'ENLEVEMENT; foundry mark cold-stamped on self-base beneath rear left hoof: BRONZE GARANTI AU TITRE
Marks and Labels
FM: BRONZE GARANTI AU TITRE / n
Private collection, Paris; purchased c. 1976 by (Michael Hall Fine Arts, New York); purchased 31 October 1977 by NGA.
- The Romantics to Rodin: French Nineteenth-Century Sculpture from North American Collections, Los Angeles County Mus. of Art; Minneapolis Inst. of Arts; Detroit Inst. of Arts; Indianapolis Mus. of Art; Mus. of Fine Arts, Boston, 1980-1981, no. 50.
- Hargrove, June. "Abduction of Hippodamie (L'Enlèvement)." In The Romantics to Rodin: French Nineteenth-Century Sculpture from North American Collections. Peter Fusco and H.W. Janson, eds. Exh. cat. 5 venues. New York, 1980: 164-166, repro.
- Sculpture: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1994: 43, repro.
- Butler, Ruth, and Suzanne Glover Lindsay, with Alison Luchs, Douglas Lewis, Cynthia J. Mills, and Jeffrey Weidman. European Sculpture of the Nineteenth Century. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 2000: 81-86, color repro.