The Voeten Collection represents a unique combination of both Belgian and international works. Currently it comprises over 1700 art pieces that have been collected during a period of more than 40 years. They are exhibited in two separate locations – at the Art Center close to Herentals and at the sculpture park near Gheel.

Jean-Marc Bodin

Les chevaux de Camargue (la Grande Traversée), 1995-1997, bronze, 117 x 70,5 x 14 cm, 3/8 + 4 AP

Sculpture focused on the representation of animals has had a large share in the history of art. For centuries man has had a bond with animals not only for food but also from affection. Over the years a whole animal iconography originated in the art. Examples of it are the medieval bestiaria (animal books) and the monstrous gargoyles of the Gothic cathedrals. In the Renaissance many equestrian statues adorned cities. The 17th century Flemish and Dutch artists often specialized in 'the animal piece'. Portraying animals experienced a decline in the 18th century. An important artistic step for the re-emergence of it was put in France in the 19th century. Antoine-Louis Barye (1796-1875) produced groundbreaking work with his sensational sculptures.

With a great knowledge of anatomy he portrayed animals in a very realistic and dramatic style. He influenced a lot of French and European artists. Especially the middle class showed a lot of interest in this specialty. The term ' animalier ', animal artist, made its appearance and was internationally accepted. Famous examples were among others Rembrandt Bugatti (1884-1916) and François Pompon (1855-1933), both represented in the Collection Hugo Voeten. This collection includes various other horse sculptures made by important artists such as Arno Breker (1900-1991), the Bulgarians Emil Popov (°1951) and Krum Damianov (°1937), the Belgian Ronald De Winter (°1956) and the Frenchman Jean-Marc Bodin (°1965).

Among the contemporary artists that depict animals Jean-Marc Bodin follows in the footsteps of his great predecessors. The beauty of animals has always fascinated the artist. For example, both the power of a polar bear or a tiger as the grace of a horse evoke emotions in the artist that drive him to create their sculptures. Already from ancient times the horse is the most depicted animal in the art. Jean-Marc Bodin as well shows in his work his fascination for this noble animal. In La Grande Traversée (Les Chevaux de Camargue), a work made in 1995 and cast in bronze by the artist himself in 1997, nine horses with pointed ears are crossing a water. Masterful realism, perfect anatomical knowledge and attention to the alertness of the animals are striking. First they will have hesitated. Then the first horse takes charge. The last follow the élan, the dynamism of the group, the legs in the water up to the belly. Determined they cleave through the water. They follow their instincts to the unknown from the other side. Are they hunted or on the run?

The Camargue is a wetland area in the south of France. It is situated on the Mediterranean coast and consists of the entire Rhone delta. This wetland area is well established by the pink flamingos, black bulls and greyish horses. These originally wild animals are often galloping with flowing, thick mane through the countryside or wading through the numerous lakes and ponds. The small Camargue is one of the oldest horse breeds in the world. They are often called 'horses of the sea' because they like to stay in water. Jean-Marc Bodin has portrayed them in their favorite habitat. The subject is close to his heart. After all, he also made a smaller version of the work, namely La Petite Traversée (Chevaux de Camargue) with five horses. The works express emotions that the artist experienced when seeing the scene in real live, a remembrance that is etched in his memory forever.

The larger work inspired among others the French novelist and reporter Ingrid Thobois, born in 1980 in Rouen. She also leads an Atelier d'écriture in Paris where young people and adults can practice their writing talent. On June 18, 2016 their task was to write a text on 'La Grande Traversée' with the opening sentence: "La vie est une symphonie de Mahler: elle ne revient jamais en arrière, elle ne retombe jamais sur ses pieds car il faut oser s'enfoncer dans l'eau immense...". (Mathias Énard) This task led to literary outpourings that express, in a very poetic way, the emotions when seeing the bronze 'La Grande Traversée'. ( "This sculpture still touches the lovers of horses, both in Europe and in Asia or America, probably because it contains great emotion and timelessness", says Bodin.

'La Grande Traversée (Chevaux de Camargue)' is signed and dated. It has a stamp with a seal showing an oak leaf and the date of the work. The sculpture was a challenge for the artist, both in terms of size, there at the time he mostly was making small creations, as the intensity of the emotions that he wanted to express. The artist retains only works that have a great emotional value for him. La Grande Traversée is one of the sculptures Bodin has saved from the period in which he especially made horses. Later he created more bears and feline animals but the horse continued to inspire him.

Jean-Marc Bodin studied sculpture at the Ecole des Arts Décoratifs in Strasbourg. Twenty-seven years ago he moved to Paris where he found work in a foundry. Here he learned the technique of bronze casting. So later he was able to start an art foundry and became one of the few artists who fully realize their own work in that discipline. His bronze sculptures are for sale in several art galleries and he has participated in various group exhibitions at home and abroad.

Text: Myriam Geurts, January 2017