Jeune Fille à la Tresse
(Irma Sèthe)

ca. 1890


Bronze buste w/ brown-green patina
on yellow Siena marble base

38.5 cm x 25.5 cm x 20.5 cm

Signed 'Paul Du Bois' on the front




Private collection, France
Sale - Drouot, Paris, 3 December 1999, lot 151

Private collection, Belgium



  • Paul Du Bois, Galerie G. Giroux, Brussels, 26 March       until 6 April 1927 (cf. n° 31).

  • Le cercle des XX, Tzwern-Aisinber Fine Arts, Brussels, 1989 (cf. n° 21).

  • Paul Du Bois (1859-1938), Musée Horta, Brussels, 1996 (cf. n° 5).

Click image to enlarge



- Le Cercle des XX, Tzwern-Aisinber Fine Arts, Brussels 1989, expo. cat., cf. n° 21, ill. p. 54. (as “Irma Sèthe”)

- Paul Du Bois 1859-1938, Françoise Aubrey & Anne Van Loon, Edition du Musée Horta, Brussels 1996, expo. cat., cf. n° 5, ill. p. 52. (as “Jeune Fille à la Tresse, Irma Sèthe”)

- Entre tradition et modernité, l’example d’un sculpteur belge : Paul Du Bois (1859-1938), Anne Massaux, lic. thesis KU Leuven, 1990. 

Paul Du Bois, born in Aywaille in 1858, played a significant role in the renewal of Belgian sculptural practices at the end of the 19th Century. He studied at the Brussels Academy under Eugène Simonis and later worked in the atelier libre of Charles Van der Stappen. In 1884, Du Bois made his debut with Hippomène, which won him the prestigious Prix de Godecharle. In the same year Paul Du Bois became a founding member of Les Vingt (Les XX), an exhibition body that would grow to become one of the leading European avant-garde groups at the end of the 19th Century. He would also be a regular exhibitor at its successor La Libre Esthétique. In 1888, Paul Du Bois opened an Atelier Libre together with Guillaume Van Strydonck and in 1894 another with his close friend Georges Lemmen. Also in 1894, he was named Chevalier in the Ordre of Leopold. Du Bois was appointed professor of sculpture at the Académie des Beaux-Arts de Mons in 1900, and in 1901 he was assigned to the Brussels Academy. In 1910 Du Bois succeeded Charles Van der Stappen as professor of sculpture at the School of Decorative Arts. He was commissioned many public monuments, among which the monument to Frédéric de Mérode in 1897 (a cooperation with Henry Van de Velde). His oeuvre is eclectic and diverse, spanning the range of statues, medals, and even household ware in Art Nouveau style.


The buste of a Jeune Fille à la Tresse (Young girl with a plait), has been identified in the artist’s lifetime as a portrait of Irma Sèthe. A profound connection with the Brussels avant-garde circles of Les XX results, not only through the artist Paul Du Bois (founding member of Les XX and La Libre Esthétique), but also through its subject Irma Sèthe. A violin prodigy at the age of 13, she was the youngest daughter of the well-to-do and arts-minded Sèthe family of Brussels. The Sèthe family counted among its circle of friends the artists of Les XX; to which their daughters were elected as muses. Paul Du Bois married Alice Sèthe. Maria, would later marry Henry Van de Velde (a marriage to which Paul Du Bois kindly served as best man). The daughters of the Sèthe family are probably most famous through their respective portraits by Théo Van Rysselberghe, which came to be regarded as the pinnacle of neo- impressionist portraiture in the pointilliste technique. Van Rysselberghe, together with Georges Lemmen, was indeed one of the closest and lifelong friends of Paul Du Bois. While the group of Les XX was renown for its avant-garde art, and thus largely ignored or frowned upon by the establishment, Paul Du Bois gained official recognition and was admired by the general public. His sculptures, it seemed, were a welcome haven after the audacious exploits in the painting division.


Two of his most important works were exhibited at the Exposition des Vingt; a bronze portrait of Irma Sèthe playing the violin in 1889, and in 1893 a large marble portrait of his wife Alice Sèthe seated on a chair, now conserved in the Musée des Beaux-Arts of Brussels. The present sculpture fits perfectly in that line and needs to be seen in the light of the Belgian School of the fin-the-siècle, where an impressionist handling of the clay is firmly captured in a classical form, reminding us of Symbolists as Fernand Khnopff. The influence of Auguste Rodin is clearly visible in the way the expression and atmosphere of the work changes dramatically in regard to changing light and spectator perspectives.


Even though a foundry stamp has not been found on the presented bronze, it seems highly likely that the work has been casted by the Compagnie des Bronzes. The quality of the cast, the singular patina and yellow Siena marble base are equal to another example of the bronze which was sold on auction (Bernaerts Veilinghuis, Antwerp, 19 June 2006, lot 101) carrying a foundry stamp “Cie des Bronzes, Bruxelles (Cire perdue)”. A third version with the same base and patina, also carrying no foundry stamp, is part of the Solvay Family collection, held in Victor Horta's prominent Hôtel Solvay and was exhibited at Paul Du Bois (1859-1938), Musée Horta, Brussels, 1996 (cat. n° 5 as “Jeune Fille à la Tresse, Irma Sèthe”). Differing from the aforementioned editions a version of the buste in bronze signed “P. M. Du Bois”, with a different patina and base, was exhibited at Le cercle des XX, Tzwern-Aisinber Fine Arts, Brussels, 1989 (cat. n° 21 as “Irma Sèthe”). 

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