Philippe Garbeille, a French sculptor working in New Orleans, specialized in portrait busts.
Philippe Garbeille was one of the few academic sculptors working in New Orleans during the nineteenth century. He was born in Marseilles (Bouches-du-Rhône), France, and began studying in his native city in 1838. Garbeille’s talent led him to Rome, Italy, to study with the Danish-Icelandic sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen, a leading neoclassical sculptor of the day. Thorvaldsen’s crisp, legible neoclassic style had a strong effect on Garbeille’s work. The approach is both serious and simple, placing emphasis on the sitter’s countenance. His conceptions resemble the veristic portrait busts of first-century Rome, though softened by a nascent sentimentalism that would come to dominate American sculpture in the 1850s. In 1842 Garbeille first appeared in New Orleans. He spent the next five of six years sculpting portrait busts, such as Pierre Soule (1842) and James H. Caldwell (1846), as well as public commissions—notably, St. Francis and Virgin and Child for St. Louis Cathedral (1846). Garbeille also painted portraits, cut silhouettes, and supplied the press with caricatures.
The Courier remarked of his work on July 11, 1842, “Mr. Garbeille a young artist of talent and great promise, and who deserves to be encouraged has just unveiled the statuette of Mr. Soulé. The installation sets the speaker in the middle of a discourse, ‘The Artist.’ Relying only on the help of his memory, [the sculptor] captured however so well resemblance and the truth of the attitude of the model, that all those who are friends of Mr. Soulé will want to have a copy of the statuette.”
The quote illuminates three things: Garbeille quickly ingratiated himself with the elite members of New Orleans society, he was considered young at the time, and he was prepared to market reproductions of his sculptures.
According to George David Coulon, Garbeille “was a good French sculptor” who “tried to form a society of artists and an art gallery but did not succeed.” Garbeille offered instruction to Eugéne Warburg, son of a mulatto slave and a white immigrant, and encouraged him to study in Paris, France. Garbeille appeared in the city directories in 1850, though he was away in Mexico during much of 1848, attempting to obtain a sitting with General Zachary Taylor. (Garbeille is said to have witnessed combat during his Mexican sojourn.) Garbeille exhibited this bust to great acclaim in New York City from 1848 to 1850. His residence is not clear again until 1853, when he briefly reappears in New Orleans. Garbeille traveled to Havana, Cuba, where he executed a statue of the king of Spain. He also appears to have sculpted as many as twenty figures for the Jardin de la Fama at the University of Havana.