After more than a year's wait due to the COVID pandemic, Andenne was able to celebrate the arrival of its newest resident. The City of Bears has a new monumental resident in its streets. Saumons n°1" was inaugurated on 15 October in the town near Brussels.
With its impressive dimensions, one and a half metres high, two metres long and a total weight of 500 kilos, this bronze was installed on the Promenade des Ours, in the new eco-neighbourhood in the city centre, in front of the Lighthouse. This architecturally remarkable building, which houses the Library, the Tourist Office and the Espace Muséal d'Andenne, also exhibits a miniature bronze reproduction of the Saumons n°1 and a "Boucle d'Or", also acquired by the municipality.
"We thought that for this Promenade des Ours, we needed a significant work. We had discovered that on the art market, and more particularly in animal art, Mr BASSOMPIERRE had an extraordinary reputation, recognised internationally", explains Mayor Claude EERDEKENS.
With the Mayor, Claude EERDEKENS
In the company of members of the College of Aldermen and a number of local authority employees.
A delegation from Andenne to visit the workshop in 2019
A visit by a delegation is scheduled for August 2019, comprising several members of the College of Aldermen and the heads of communications and technical services. "We discovered the man before we discovered the work, and we were really delighted to visit this little paradise where the artist has plenty of time to create. He is one of the greatest, if not the greatest, animal sculptor in the world, so it was impressive for us to be able to enter his workshop, his cultural retreat and his art creation," said the Mayor at the inauguration.
"Beyond the artist, beyond the warm-hearted man, there is the humanism that shines through in his works, with an obvious respect for nature, for the animals he sculpts in various materials. It's quite extraordinary to be able to use your hands to transpose everything you might have imagined in your head. You go from conception to realisation, and it's the same person who achieves this technical feat," he marvels.
Accompanied by his First Alderman, the heads of communications and Andenne's technical services, the Mayor visited the workshop in 2019.
The bear, emblem of the town
The links between Andenne and the plantigrade go back a long way. Bear skulls over 100,000 years old have been found in one of the caves in the region. But the legend goes back to the 8th century, to the time of Charles Martel, whose grandmother Saint Begge founded the town. At the age of 8, the young boy is said to have fought and defeated a monstrous bear that was spreading terror in a neighbourhood.
The bear is also the town's mascot, celebrated every year at the Carnival, where hundreds of participants dress up as plantigrades and lucky bears are thrown from the balcony of the Town Hall.
The first monumental work in a collection
Fascinated by the world of Michel BASSOMPIERRE, the Andenne town council has commissioned a new monumental bear in bronze. "For the record, this is a first step, because the promenade is called the Promenade des Ours (Bear Promenade), and at the moment there's only one, which must feel very lonely. So in December 2020, the Municipal Council unanimously decided to acquire a second work," explains the Mayor. Miel no. 3 should find its place on the Promenade des Ours in 2022.
"We're playing in the big league with Rudy RICIOTTU [the architect of the Lighthouse] and Michel BASSOMPIERRE, and I think we've perhaps acquired a taste for working with great artists. This is essential if we want to have a collective ambition for our town," concludes Claude EERDEKENS.
The Promenade des Ours, a new eco-district emblematic of the city's modernisation.
A look back at the process of creating Saumons n°1
It takes several key moments for a clay sculpture measuring just a few centimetres to become a 2-metre bronze.
Michel BASSOMPIERRE never creates from photographs, at the risk of rendering the sculpture "limp". He stores up in his head long hours of observations in the field or on video to capture the attitude of a brown bear on the lookout for a salmon.
It's a crucial time for sketching the animal in a transparent way, so as not to make any gaps in the musculature and joints, which will help to bring the sculpture to life.
Once the sketch was finished, Michel BASSOMPIERRE modelled the chamotte clay, without dwelling on the smooth finish of the sculpture, which would be easier on the plaster print, obtained after moulding the sketch in clay.
The plaster sculpture, a few dozen centimetres high, will serve as a model for the monumental sculpture.
More details on the different stages in the process of creating a sculpture.
In 2012, we didn't have all the technology we have today (in this case, the new techniques he uses).
Michel BASSOMPIERRE therefore had to enlarge the bear himself. He carves directly into the polyurethane foam, knowing that a block measures only 80 cm for a bear that is over a metre long, so several pieces will have to be glued together.
So it was with a saw, which he handled with determination and hours of "work", that he transformed a block of foam into an animal!
"What great satisfaction it is to create a monumental 2-metre sculpture from a 50-centimetre plaster cast! But from now on I'll be subcontracting this part... You have to keep up with the times!
Next, he covers it with plaster to make it more solid and - as with his model - refines the details and gives it a smooth appearance, using several hours of sandpaper.
By this stage, the 50 cm sculpture had grown to 2 m in just 2 months.
With its head on one side and its posture serene, "Les Saumons n°1" is waiting to be transformed into bronze.
There are several stages in the process, from a sculpture in plaster and polyurethane foam to one in bronze.
The foundry uses the lost wax process.
This colossal task fell to the foundryman Gabriel UNDERWOOD. Initially cast in London, it was assembled in Jublains in Mayenne.
Soldering was the most perilous part of the process. As the bear was made up of 10 parts, it was essential not to make a single millimetre's mistake, otherwise the sculpture would be deformed.
After 5 months of being pampered by all those little hands, the monumental bronze sculpture left the foundry for a furtive visit to its creator's lair, just long enough to say goodbye, and then it was off to its first destination: Courchevel.
It's only a farewell...
From December 2012 to the present day, this bear will have had many adventures, with a succession of destinations... Dinard, Courchevel, Paris to end his journey in Andenne.
It was only after 8 years that Michel BASSOMPIERRE decided to let her take flight and leave for new horizons... Belgium.
"I feel like one of my babies is leaving the nest... But that's the way it should be!