La Source. Alphonse Legros. 1882. size unknown. Plaster relief. Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle Upon Tyne, accession no. TWCMS: D4849. [Click on image to enlarge it.]

The principal version of La Source was exhibited at the Grosvenor Gallery in 1882, no. 372. This relief features an upright nude figure of a young woman pouring water from a vessel. It was discussed by a critic for The Academy even prior to it being exhibited:

Mr. Legros has now all but ready for the casting the plaster ‘proof’ of the bas- relief which is to appear in bronze at the forthcoming exhibition of the Grosvenor Gallery. The work will be entitled La Source. It is the figure of a very young girl, viewed from the front, and bending sideways, her body swayed to the right by the weight of the great water vessel which discharges its contents at her feet. The work is in very low relief, so that strict adherence to the real proportions of the figure, in thickness and depth – which only work in the completed round can fully retain - has necessarily been sacrificed, and for it there has as necessarily been substituted some of that conventionality which draughtsmanship employs in larger measure. The best success of the artist is thus far reached in the treatment of the body. The simple head - of a type which Mr. Legros has more than once given us – lacks, at present, the full youthfulness which the frame exhibits, and, for the moment, justifies more, perhaps, than it is intended to do the sentiment of the American poet, that the body is so much more beautiful than the most beautiful of faces. But the entire figure, from face to foot, is conceived in that spirit of poetic realism which is really the characteristic of Mr. Legros at his best. In it are united a poetry which does not shrink from the employment of familiar themes, and a reality which is unwilling to dispense with the refined touch of imagination. The eye sees that which it is qualified to see, and the eye of Mr. Legros is qualified to see beauty when it escapes the rougher observation. [238]

The Academy later went on to discuss the work further when it was shown at the Grosvenor:

Mr. Legros, who exhibits no pictures, sends several of the works of a modeler; and thus, while opportunity remains for the praise of his invention and of his touch, opportunity of complaint as to his colour is removed. La Source and Death in the Woodman display the variety of his preoccupations. La Source is a relief; the subject, a very young girl’s figure bending under the burden of a heavy vessel. The subject has been treated many times in art, notably, of course, in the picture by Ingres. The necessities of a painting demanded what a relief was scarcely obliged to present, a head of great comeliness, a face of unquestioned beauty - and Ingres succeeded in this as effectively as in the fine line and dimpled modelling of the figure… Mr. Legros’s maiden is under no strain so severe as the heroine of Ingres - the sixteen years child of his concierge. With an interesting head, Legros has given to the figure extreme suavity of beauty, and yet there is hardly idealization at all” (327)

F. G. Stephens gave this sculpture a favourable review in The Athenaeum: ”Among the sculptures here we recognize with pleasure La Source (372) of Mr. Legros, a nude female figure in bas-relief, which is much superior to his greatly overpraised bronze medals in the case No. 373, or the very rough and demonstrative group in the round, which exemplifies no new motive, and is named Death and the Woodma (642). The critic of The Builder complained about how the feet of the figure disappeared: “And a bas-relief by Mr. Legros, ‘La Source’, is very much the same motive as Ingres’ celebrated painting. The feet of the figure disappear as if lapsing into the rivulet which is supposed to flow from them, – that we take to be the intention; the effect is unfortunate” (540). The Magazine of Art described this as ”his charming bas-relief La Source, which is too awkwardly placed to produce its due effect” (352). Cosmo Monkhouse also found it charming: “A touch of the ‘wild’ distinguishes his lately finished bas-relief, The Source, from the exquisitely pretty achievement of Ingres, but the lithe young figure is modelled with notable delicacy and distinction, and is full of chaste charm” (333).

Legros’s friend Henri Fantin-Latour painted this subject in 1871, which is now in the Manchester Art Gallery. It features a pastoral scene of a semi-nude well nymph, seated in a hilly landscape, and pouring water onto the ground from a vessel. A pen-and-ink study for Legros’s relief of La Source is in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum, accession no. CAI.253, as is a study in graphite, accession no. CAI.251.


Bénédite, Léonce. “Alphonse Legros, Painter and Sculptor.” The Studio“. 29 (June 1903), 3-22. Internet Archive. Web. 7 February 2012.

“Notes on Art and Archaeology.” The Academy XXI (April 1, 1882): 237-38.

“Fine Art. The Grosvenor Gallery.” The Academy XXI (May 6, 1882): 326-27

“The Grosvenor Gallery.” The Builder XVII (May 6, 1882): 539-40.

“The Exhibitions.” The Magazine of Art V (1882): 351-52.

Monkhouse, Cosmo. “Professor Legros.” The Magazine of Art V (1882): 327-34.

Stephens, Frederic George. “Fine Arts. The Grosvenor Gallery.” The Athenaeum No. 2847 (May 20, 1882): 641-42.

La Source, 1882. Plaster relief, size unknown. Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle Upon Tyne, accession no. TWCMS: D4849.

Last modified 12 November 2022