Dalou infused this marble portrait bust with subtle movement and energy: rather than maintaining a strictly formal pose, Dalou's young boy tips his head slightly, jostling his collar and tie, as if pausing only briefly before running on to play. The variety of textures—the soft creaminess of the boy's cheeks, his crisply drilled eyes, the chiseled matte finish of the sailor suit—enable light and shadow to alternate across the bust's surfaces. Like his contemporary Rodin, Dalou employed practiciens (carving technicians) to render his works in marble, though he may be responsible here for the sensitive handling of the boy's face.
Dalou created several busts of young children while living in England in the 1870s. Scholars speculate that this is five-year-old Henry Ebenezer Bingham, the son and grandson of English master marble- and stonemasons. Dalou taught sculptural modeling in London in the 1870s and had a studio near the Bingham family stone business. Henry's father, Edward Bingham, may have engaged Dalou to make this bust; in fact, the choice of material, "noble" statuary marble rather than the more popular terracotta that Dalou used at the time, may hint at the Binghams' social aspirations, as well as being a reference to the material basis of the family business.
Traditional stone-carving tools were used for this work: a variety of chisels to work the face, hair, tie, and collar of the slightly disheveled suit; a drill for the pupil and iris; and files (and perhaps emery and pumice, but not wax or polish) to smooth the work and soften the boy's cheeks.
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 at rear of left shoulder above truncation of the back: DALOU
Henry E. Bingham [1866-1949], London ; by descent to his grandson, Trevor H.B. Shaw, Esq. [1923-1996], Surrey; (sale, Sotheby's, London, 20 June 1989, no. 36); (Thos. Agnew & Sons Limited, London); purchased 8 January 1991 by NGA.
- Master Drawings and Sculpture, Thomas Agnew & Sons Limited, London, 1989, no. 62.
- Biénnale des Antiquaires, Grand Palais, Paris, 1990, no. cat.
- Art for the Nation: Gifts in Honor of the 50th Anniversary of the National Gallery of Art, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1991, 174-175, color repro.
- Obras Maestras de la National Gallery of Art de Washington, Museo Nacional de Antropología, Mexico City, 1996-1997, unnumbered catalogue, 100-101, color repro.
- Agnew's 1982-1992. Exh. cat. Thomas Agnew & Sons, Ltd., London, 1992: 191-192, pl. 172.
- Sculpture: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1994: 50, repro.
- Norman Herz, Katherine A. Holbrow and Shelley G. Sturman. "Marble Sculture in the National Gallery of Art: a Provenance Study." In Max Schvoerer, ed. Archéomatériaux: marbres et autres roches: ASMOSIA IV, Bordeaux, France 9-13 october 1995: actes de la IVème Conférence international de l’Association pour l’étude des marbres et autres roches utilizes dans le passé. Talence, 1999: 101-110.
- 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: 102-108, color repro.