Claude-François-Xavier Mercier de Compiègne,.Manuel du voyageur à Paris Year VII - 1798, p.139-40
According to Daninos, Orso arrived in Paris from Turin in early 1785, probably drawn by the prospective patronage of the comtesse de Provence and comtesse d'Artois, the two daughters of Victor-Amédée III of Savoy. His wax portraits of the comtesse d'Artois's two sons, the duc d'Angoulême and the duc de Berry, were exhibited in December 1785 in the Salon de la Correspondance and sent to the court in Turin the following year. He continued to exhibit in the years which followed and in 1788 received 4,100 livres for a commission from the comtesse de Provence.
|Mirabeau by Boze, |
For Orso, as for Curtius, the Revolutionary years were not without their tribulations. In 1794 both men were attacked for their popular tableaux of Marat and Le Peletier ("les deux sujets les plus beaux de la Revolution") which were preferred over David's edifying paintings in the Convention. [Athanase Détournelle, Journal de la Société républicaine des arts (1794) p.18-20]. In March 1794 Orso was actually arrested for showing a wax model of Charlotte Corday, who was considered by some Revolutionary purists to have provoked too much sympathetic publicity; he managed to extricate himself only by insisting that the wax in question was in fact an abstract figure of "Liberty" (p.63). The effigy evidently had appeal, for according to Les Chroniques du Palais-Royal (1860) Curtius's fortunes were not at all aided by his rivalry with "a certain Orsay, who, in the Palais-Royal, showed the assassination of (?by) Charlotte Corday" (p.283)
By 1797 Orso had moved his show to one of the rotundas in the garden of the Palais-Royal, and in late 1798 he too moved out altogether, to premises in the Boulevard Saint-Martin, not far from the cabinet of Curtius. He died on 21st November 1799 and at this point his business disappears from history.
Orso was always a versatile artist who worked in clay and marble as well as wax. The inventory of his salon at his death shows that at this time he preferred allegorical and genre scenes over the wax likenesses associated with Curtius.
The only wax by Orso to survive from his time in France is a tableau featuring small-scale figures of Voltaire, Rousseau and Franklin in the Musée Révolution française,Vizille (Daninos, Catalogue no.9, p.101). The wooden frame measures 89cm x 85cm x 60cm. The spiritual fathers of the Revolution are placed in a natural country setting. Rousseau is writing Émile with a young boy, no doubt Émile himself, seated beside him; a young black girl sits beside Franklin. The piece is signed ORSO and probably dates from 1790, the year of Franklin's death, or shortly after.
The group was acquired by the museum in 1987 from a private collection in Paris. The clothes are not original. It may have originally been part of Orso's public exhibition, but it could equally well have been a private commission. The composition recalls the grouping of Voltaire, Rousseau and Franklin seen by Mrs Cradock at Curtius's cabinet in the Foire St-Germain in 1784.
Andrea Daninos, Une Révolution en cire (2016), p.57-72; p.101.
"Waxing eloquent: Italian portrait figures in wax", Exhibition at the Fortuny Museum, Venice, 10 March – 25 June 2012, Enfilade, post of 5.3.12.