Tunisian Water Carrier by Jean Didier Debut

Tunisian Water Carrier by Jean Didier Debut

In December 2018 Exhibitions and Learning Officer, Jemma Tynan, posted a blog about working with ArtUK to digitise The Atkinson’s sculpture collection. ArtUk are a cultural education charity that is making art more accessible by taking pictures of collections and showcasing them on their website.

The paintings in the collection are already searchable on the ArtUK website as well as some of our works on paper and we are currently working hard to get the rest of our sculptures on there too.

This project to digitise The Atkinson’s sculpture collection is being completed by their wonderful volunteers and University student placements. They are working through the sculptures, taking pictures of them and measuring them for the website. It sounds easy, but it can be really difficult capturing all the tiny intricate details of the sculptures It involves a lot of scene setting, getting the lights right, and adjusting the camera.

One of the best things about ArtUK is that they include pieces that are not on public display in museums, so through the website, you can see pieces that you would not normally be able to visit.

As we were photographing our sculptures that are currently in storage at The Atkinson, I became really interested in a beautifully detailed bronze figure and decided to research it.

It is a finely cast Orientalist sculpture depicting a young man carrying two jugs of water called ‘Tunisian Water Carrier.’ It was made by the French Artist Jean Didier Debut.

Debut was born in Moulins on the 4th of June 1824 and died in Paris in April 1893. I was astounded by how old the sculpture is as it is in such good condition! He was a student of master sculptor David d’Angers and the father of sculptor Marcel Debut, his life was filled with art.

He entered the Royal School of Fine Arts in 1842 and in 1845, received a mention in the composition competition. In 1851 he won the prestigious Prix de Rome and he frequently exhibited his work at the Salon of the Society of French Artists until his death.

He also worked on the decoration of Parisian monuments such as the Paris City Hall, the Palais Garnier, and the Commercial Court. He became famous because of his Orientalist inspired sculptures like the ‘Tunisian Water Carrier,’ reflecting Parisians’ fascination with the Middle East during the second half of the 19th century.

The sculpture was presented to the Atkinson Museum in June 1984 by Mrs Jennie Halewood in memory of her husband, Mr W.T Halewood. I think the ‘Tunisian Water Carrier’s’ journey from nineteenth century Paris, to England, and eventually to the Atkinson in Southport is so wonderfully interesting.

I love that this small sculpture has such a rich and interesting history behind it. It really showed me what a brilliant job ArtUK and The Atkinson are doing by continuing to make these pieces accessible to the public.

Written by Shannon Benson, Manchester Metropolitan University 

Explore The Atkinson’s collection on ArtUK here.

Purchase selected print reproductions from The Atkinson’s collection on the Art UK Shop here.

Posted on 4 April 2020 under Exhibition, General news, Museum

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