Muse of Mine: Et Toujours! Et Jamais!
While visiting The Museum of Fine Arts in Montréal several months ago, I discovered this terracotta sculpture by Emile Hébert. It has haunted my thoughts, in the loveliest of ways, ever since. This striking work almost made Hébert famous after causing a sensation at the Salon of French Artists in Paris (1859).
Photo Credit: Musée des Beau-Arts Montréal
I found the sensuality and stark contrasts within the piece immediately fascinating. A skeletal figure, shrouded and dressed in rags, embraces the nude body of a young woman. His gaunt limbs wrap around her supple flesh as she tenderly inclines her head towards his.
The figures are perched above a tombstone which reads, “Et toujours!! Et jamais!!” which can be translated as “Forever and ever!!” or “Always! Never!”.
Photo Credit: Jerry Donhal
Some interpretations of this work suggest that the skeletal figure is a symbolic representation of Death and the Maiden. My own thoughts, however, aligned with an alternate viewpoint – that these were actually two lovers, once parted, and now reunited. Eternally frozen in this passionate moment just before their final embrace.