Apr 15, 2017

Maurice Deriaz: The Bodybuilder Who Submitted to the Artist

Maurice Deriaz, born in 1885 in Baulmes, Switzerland, was one of seven famous athletic brothers who performed weight lifting and gymnastic feats,

He also performed by himself.  Called le lion suisse and roi de la beauté plastique, he drew crowds all over Europe.

In 1907, he found himself in the Paris of the Belle Epoque, the Paris of  gay authors like Gide, Proust, Huysmans, and Collete.  The Paris of Impressionism, Fauvism, and Art Noveau.   And of 55-year old painter Gustave Courtois (1852-1923), who shared a studio with his roommate and partner since their art school days, Pascal Dagnan Bouveret (1852-1929).

Courtois was a painter of the "academic style": vast, grandiose,  pompous, with allegorical or historical subjects, rather old fashioned and outdated for the Belle Epoque.  Yet somehow he convinced the ultra-modern Deriaz to model for him.

One assumes that he offered more than monetary compensation.

Portrait de l'athlete Maurice Deriaz  appeared in 1907.

Deriaz returned in 1912 to model for Hercule au pied d'Omphale (Hercules at the feet of Omphale 1912), below, and Persée délivrant Andromède (Perseus rescuing Andromeda, 1913).

Both represent myths of dominant-submissive relationships. Did Deriaz have a dominant-submissive relationship with the older Courtois that got coded into the paintings?

But these paintings were never for sale.  They were gifts to Deriaz.

When Deriaz retired from bodybuilding, he opened a factory that made reeds for musical instruments.  He died in  in 1975.

The three paintings that he modeled were hanging in his house.  He donated them to the city of Baulmes.

Why did the artist convince Deriaz to model for three paintings, and then not try to sell them?  Were they too personal, embedding, a secret language that only they could interpret?

This sketch, dating from 1913, is captioned "Se faire un chemin par la force," making a way through force, a quote from Virgil's Aeneid.

There are hints and glimmers of a gay relationship, perhaps one with BDSM as a theme.  But the details are lost to history.

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