In the 1920 Paris Salon, an art exhibition, the French sculptor Sophie-Victoire Debry exhibited a statue, Jeune garçon faisant se battre des coqs (‘Young man putting cocks to fight’). For her efforts she received honorable mention.
She is not well documented around the interwebs, and neither is her sculpture. It’s an academic statue with what some commentators see as Art Nouveau influences (in the treatment of the boy’s hair, I guess). The statue was reproduced in bronze and one comes up at auction every few years.
More recently, a version of the statue in what appears to be slightly larger dimensions has been sculpted and reproduced in a bronze version signed P. D. Chevre. I have never seen one of Debry’s original casts, but I assume they are better than the Chevre knockoffs. At any rate, the face on the Chevre version is pretty frightening (figure 2).
Bucks County Estate Traders not too long ago sold a Chevre version they termed a “large bronze garden statue” entitled Cock Fighting. They ascribed it to the 1980s and asked $1,895.00 for it.
One of these Chevres (chevre, by the way, is French for ‘goat’) found its way onto a fantastic 2014 project commemoration erected by Pamela Steffen for her husband, Dr. Theodore Steffen. It is not far from the monument to Col. Harland Sanders, also celebrated for cocks. Let’s take a tour of the statue’s highlights.
Chevre’s best moment (and maybe Debry’s) is the face-off of the two cocks (figure 8). This emotion-packed action, the complicated pose of the boy, and the latter’s leering face all harken back to art produced in the Hellenistic period between Alexander the Great’s death and approximately the fall of Egypt to Rome in 30 BCE.
Tastes then ran to emotionally charged vignettes such as Debry’s. Typical is the famous ‘drunken old woman’ sometimes explained as an old prostitute now aged and down on her luck, drowning her sorrows in wine. This interpretation may not be true, but the one thing we can say for sure is that the statue is telling some anecdotal story, as is ours of the boy setting two cocks to fight. Debry (and not Chevre, whose intellectual contribution here is about nil) had clearly studied her Hellenistic art and sought to produce a showpiece ‘in the grand Hellenistic style.”
The Steffen monument has one of the longest epitaphs of its kind, a document that swings between poetic quotations and staccato recitation of achievements, all offered with the diciest of punctuation and formatting (figure 11).
1929-2014 CAPTAIN THEODORE NICHOLAS STEFFEN, MD.. U.S. ARMY SERVED IN INDIA, JAPAN AND KOREA. YALE, UVA, IOWA. OTOLARYNGOLOGIST. HOUSE INSTITUTE, L.A. CONTRIBUTING DEVELOPER OF TECHNIQUES STAPEDECTOMY AND COCHLEAR IMPLANT. PIONEERED THE NEW FIELD OF MICROSURGERY JOINTLY DEVELOPED A SIMPLIFIED PITUITARY TUMOR REMOVAL BY REMOVING THE NOSE FLAP GIVING ACCESS TO THE BRAIN ENDING THE PROCESS OF REMOVING THE SKULL AND BRAICH CAUSED MASSIVE RECOVERY TIME, DISFIGURING SCARRING AND LIFELONG MIGRAINES INVENTOR OF A TWO VIEW MICROSURGERY CAMERA. PRODUCER DIRECTOR, WRITER NARRATOR OF 14 OTOLOGY TEACHING FILMS AUTHOR OF NUMEROUS OTOLOGY RESEARCH ARTICLES. ELECTRICIAN DURING CONSTRUCTION OF THE USS UNITED STATES. MEMBER AND VESTRYMAN AT ST ANDREWS EPISCOPAL CHURCH FOR 42 YEARS. MASTER SAILOR BOAT BUILDER. FINE FURNITURE MAKER AND DOUBLE ROSETTE WINNER 25 YEAT AMERICAN BOY SCOUT VOLUNTEER — AWARDED A SILVER BEAVER. SUPPORTER OF GREAT CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS. WORLD TRAVELER AND PHOTOGRAPHER — PUBLISHED IN NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC. GENTLEMAN FARMER TO A 207 ACRE INDIANA FAMILY FARM OF 165 YEARS MAYFLOWER DESCENDANT AND FROM THE LINE OF KING CLOVIS 79 A.D. FATHER OF TWO STELLAR HUMAN BEINGS QUIET POLITE EMBRACING DEMEANOR MASKED STEAMROLLER DETERMINATION AND PERPETUAL OPTIMISM IN ALL THINGS. “THE STARS ARE NOT WANTED NOW PUT OUT EVERY ONE PACK UP THE MOON AND DISMANTLE THE SUN. POUR AWAY THE OCEAN AND SWEEP UP THE WOOD FOR NOTHING NOW CAN COME TO ANY GOOD HE WAS MY NORTH, MY SOUTH, MY EAST AND WEST. MY WORKING WEEK AND MY SUNDAY REST. MY NOON, MY MIDNIGHT MY TALK, MY SONG” — W.H. AUDEN MY ONE LOVE. ALL THIS LIFE LONG. PAMELA PARSONS BRAY STEFFEN
Particularly interesting is the assertion that Steffen’s technique of removing the nose flap ended ‘the process of removing the skull and brain.’ Lapidary brevity is a virtue in an epitaph, but being too abbreviated can lead to nonsense.
What is this business about 79 A.D.? Clovis (presumably the Merovingian) lived long after A.D. 79, the year Pompeii was engulfed by Vesuvius’ eruption.
And the U.S.S. United States? There were three ships which were supposed to bear that name around Steffan’s lifetime: 1) a battlecruiser which was broken up in the construction dock in accordance with the Washington Naval Treaty (1922); 2) an aircraft carrier discontinued only 7 days after her keel was laid (1949); and 3) the aircraft carrier subsequently named the Harry S Truman (1995). Maybe the S.S. United States? That was an ocean liner built in 1951-1952.
The Auden verses are from Funeral Blues:
Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.
Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message ‘He is Dead’.
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.
He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.
The stars are not wanted now; put out every one,
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun,
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.
The epitaph quotes the poem’s fourth and then third stanza in that reverse order, except that the emotionally mature final verse of the third is suppressed as being a downer, I guess.
So, in the end, I ask myself, why put Debry’s statue of a boy with his cock in his hands on Steffen’s monument? Seriously, what’s the connection?