Ipoustéguy

Sculptor of total originality


Jean Robert (Ipoustéguy), sculptor and artist: born Dun-sur-Meuse, France 6 January 1920; married (one daughter deceased); died Dun-sur-Meuse 8 February 2006.

The sculptor Ipoustéguy was one of the world's greatest human beings. Few people knew his name, but his giant works live on in public places in churches and museums all over the globe. He was a genius from the working classes who became an angel of art.

He was born Jean Robert at Dun-sur-Meuse, in Lorraine, the village to which he finally returned three years before his death. He took his mother's maiden name as his signature in art, perhaps influenced by the sculptor known as Adam, who was his first teacher. His beloved father was a joiner who inspired his son from an early age, for he was a good amateur painter, a violinist and enthusiast for amateur theatricals. He was also a great reader, and passed on all these gifts to his son.

Consequently, the boy did exceptionally well at school. He never forgot the inspired work of one of his teachers, a Monsieur Lesbounit, who had encouraged him to read books well beyond the normal range for a child of his age, and introduced him to the world of art through visits to the Louvre and galleries of contemporary painters and sculptors. Ipoustéguy always said he had the good luck to be taught by two wonderful fathers.

He started as a humble lawyer's clerk but from the age of 18 attended art classes in the evenings. It was here that he met the sculptor Adam, who at once recognised his pupil's artistic promise, and remained a close friend all his life: his massive sculptural works like the 1949 Grand Nu and the giant concrete figure Signal outside the Maison de la Culture at Le Havre certainly were an inspiration for Ipoustéguy's later monumental works.

But art studies were interrupted by the misery of war. He was mobilised, but joined the Resistance. After the Liberation, he got his first job teaching drawing. He joined a "collective" of young artists to decorate the church of Saint-Jacques at Montrouge, in Paris. But from 1949 he started serious sculpture studies and with the recommendation of Adam exhibited at the 1956 Salon de Mai: it was the first time I saw his name and his first great work, La Rose. This one-metre high sculpture, of a rose clutched in an enormous hand, was prophetic of his later large-scale woks. However, it attracted no critical attention.

Like many artists of his generation, Ipoustéguy became a fervent disciple of Abstractionism, especially in the work of Brancusi, before returning to figuration. In 1962, a visit to Greece became an important step in his development, with the creation of giant free-standing figures like La Terre ("Earth", 1962), L'Homme ("Man", 1963) and the heroic figures placed in a setting like his Ecbatane (1965), realised in expanded polystyrene, then in cast iron. He also began experimenting with all kinds of treatment of bronze, which produced two of his best-known works, L'Homme passant la porte ("Man Passing Through the Door") and La Femme au Bain ("Woman in the Bath", 1966).

It was now that his art took a change of direction, occasioned by a number of deaths among his family and friends. The death of his father is memorialised in a giant recumbent marble figure wearing a mortuary mask of electroplated silver and crowned with a papal tiara, a work of startling grandeur now in the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne. His mother's death is expressed in a more direct form in L'Agonie de la mère (1968).

Most of these impressive works were created at Choisy-le-Roi, a suburb of Paris, where since 1948 he had been repairing and living in a disused ceramics factory. He had converted this into an immense studio on a sort of treasure island, which he and his family allowed to grow wild until it resembled one of the jungles of the Douanier Rousseau, inhabited by all kinds of happy animals and birds, a veritable artist's paradise, wherein, he said, "my sculptures are enveloped in their own simplicity. I am an image-maker. I cannot disassociate the image from its environment." He lived there rather remote from the rest of the world, though never far from art.

He showed his works in Paris with Claude Bernard, who remained his admirer and agent to the end. He obtained numerous commissions - not always then found acceptable. His great work of art in celebration of the French army medical corps, intended for the Val de Grâce military hospital in Paris, is now in the possession of France's former enemies at the Kunsthalle in Darmstadt, Germany, while an abashed Lyons was reluctant to take on his tribute to the city's great (and highly sexed) woman poet of the 16th century Louise Labé. His Rimbaud (1985) for the courtyard of the Arsenal in Paris was very coolly received ("arse and all" as I heard one British tourist describe it).

The total originality of Ipoustéguy's life and character produced great work without equal. His works can now be seen all over Europe - France, Germany, Denmark, Italy, even Britain (at the Tate). He is also well represented in museums in the United States, Canada and Israel.

James Kirkup

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Refrigeration Engineer

£24000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: These refrigeration specialists...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Coordinator - Logistics and Supply Chain

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an operational role and...

Recruitment Genius: CNC Sheet Metal Worker / Fabricator

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Working within the workshop of ...

Recruitment Genius: 1st / 2nd Line IT Support Engineer

£20000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This specialist high tech compa...

Day In a Page

On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific
In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

Dame Colette Bowe - interview
When do the creative juices dry up?

When do the creative juices dry up?

David Lodge thinks he knows
The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

Fashion's Cher moment

Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

Health fears over school cancer jab

Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

Weather warning

Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

High hopes for LSD

Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

Saving Private Brandt

A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral