Charles Cordier

Charles Henri Joseph Cordier (19 October 1827 - 30 May 1905) was a French sculptor of ethnographic subjects.

Charles Cordier
Charles Cordier sculpteur BNF Gallica.jpg
Charles Cordier, ca.1860 photograph,
Paris, BnF.
Born19 October 1827
Died30 May 1905 (aged 78)
EducationÉcole des Beaux-Arts
Known forSculpture, Painting


Woman of the Colonies (1861), Paris, Musée d'Orsay.

Cordier was born in Cambrai. In 1847, a meeting with Seïd Enkess, a former black slave who had become a model, determined the course of his career.[1]

His first success was a bust in plaster of a Sudanese man "Saïd Abdullah of the Mayac, Kingdom of the Darfur" (Sudan). This was exhibited at the Paris Salon of 1848, the same year that slavery was abolished in all French colonies. It is now housed at The Walters Art Museum.

In 1851, Queen Victoria bought a bronze of it at the Great Exhibition of London.

From 1851 to 1866, he served as the official sculptor of Paris's National History Museum, creating a series of spectacularly lifelike busts for their new ethnographic gallery (now housed in the Musee de l'Homme, Paris).

Cordier did not only use 'exotic' models: in the course of his ethnographic work he depicted European types from different parts of France and beyond. His artistic credo was however in conscious opposition to the largely Eurocentric viewpoint prevailing in his day. Addressing the French Society of Anthropology in 1862, Cordier stated:

"Beauty does not belong to a single, privileged race, I have promoted throughout the world of art the idea that beauty is everywhere. Every race has its own beauty, which differs from that of others. The most beautiful black person is not the one who looks most like us."

("Le beau n'est pas propre à une race privilégiée, j'ai émis dans le monde artistique l'idée de l'ubiquité du beau. Toute race a sa beauté qui diffère de celle des autres races. Le plus beau nègre n'est pas celui qui nous ressemble le plus.")[2]

Cordier took part in the great works commissioned by the Second French Empire (Paris Opera, Musée du Louvre, the Hôtel de Ville) or by private interests such as Baron de Rothschild. He died in Algeria.

See alsoEdit


  • Laure de Margerie, Édouard Papet & al. Facing the other: Charles Cordier (1827–1905), ethnographic sculptor. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2004. ISBN 0-8109-5606-3
  • Pierre Dalibard c'était le temps où Charles Cordier unissait l'onyx et le bronze. Éditions Tensing, 2012. ISBN 978-2-919750-11-5


  1. ^ Described in his Mémoires, Musée d'Orsay exhibition from 3 February 2004 to 2 May 2004, Facing the other : Charles Cordier, ethnographic sculptor, page 5.
  2. ^ Musée d'art moderne André Malraux

External linksEdit