Updated: May 5
Born in Lille, France on December 12th 1858, Emmanuel Villanis was to become one of the most productive and popular Sculptors of the late 19th Century. Recognised today as one of the foremost sculptors of the Art Nouveau era, he was able to capture such character and realism in his bronze busts that they are highly sought after around the world by avid collectors.
Emmanuel Villanis’s Life
Villanis was born to Italian parents in France in 1858. He moved with the family to Piedmont, Italy, in March 186. Known in Italy as Villani, he studied at the Academy of Fine Arts Albertina in Turin from 1871 to 1880 alongside master sculptor Odoardo Tabacchi.
When Villanis graduated, he exhibited his first works in cities across Italy, notably his bust ‘Alda’ in Milan in 1881. Villanis returned to France in 1885, living and working in the Montmartre district of Paris. He didn’t leave Montmartre until his death on August 28th 1914.
Works by Emmanuel Villanis
Villanis specialised in female bronze busts. Many are based on musical subjects such as opera heroines and composers, as well as famous characters from literature and mythology. The women were beautiful and young and often looked thoughtful, detached and melancholy. They displayed harmonious proportions with each having an oval face, hollow eyes, short nose, full lips and long hair.
His subjects are each found in two or three sizes and are made of bronze, pewter or spelter. His busts were cast by the Society des Bronzes de Paris, Bronze Garanti au titre Paris, Vrai Bronze Garanti Paris, E Blot Paris Vrai Bronze and K K Kunst-Erzgiesserei Wien and exported all over the world.
The works of Villanis often feature muti-hued patination, in two or more colours, which is particularly beautiful. They also often feature the title of the piece fairly prominently. During the 19th Century it was vital for a sculptor to exhibit at the Salon des Artistes in order to gain recognition and commissions. Villanis did so 11 times between 1886 and 1910, exhibiting 17 sculptures including the four busts Nerina in 1887, Galatee in 1894, Mignon in 1896 and Judith in 1898. Villanis received an Honourable Mention for the two maquette statues he presented in 1892.
Buying Villanis Antiques with Confidence
As with most sculptures of note, there are many reproductions on the market that one should be wary of. You can rule out the more obvious recasts by checking the quality of the piece, as the authentic pieces are incredibly well made. As with any valuable item do ensure that you acquire Villanis's work from a trusted source.
There were of course no “cold castings” around 1900. If the piece does not have a stamp, it may still be authentic. If it does have a stamp and it was cast by the Society de Bronze de Paris, the medallion stamp will be made separately of another material, it will appear clear and sharp like a coin and will have been fitted in after the foundation process. Pieces cast at the other four foundries will have the mark embossed into the bronze.
There are many marble sculptures signed E.Villanis on the market, nearly all of them made by craftsmen from a model, but its tricky to tell when they were made and whether they were made with his authorisation or not.
You can also check whether your sculpture is documented in the catalogue raissonné 'Emmanuel Villanis' by Josje Hortulanus-de Mik.