The Sculptures of Etienne-Jules Marey

Etienne-Jules Marey, Flight of a gull, 1885, Collège de France via’s 2002 archive of Expo-Marey, a defunct flash website

On social media this morning art historian Michael Lobel noted that Xavi Bou’s time-lapse photographs of birds in flight reminded him of the photos and sculptures of Etienne-Jules Marey. Which, respectively, of course, and wtf?

Etienne-Jules Marey, lost bronze sculpture of gull in flight, 1887, via Braun’s Picturing Time

I did not know Marey made sculptures, but he did. In her extensive 1992 monograph Picturing Time, Marta Braun writes that sculptures were part of Marey’s efforts from 1885-87 to produce 3-D chronophotographs of movement.

Etienne-Jules Marey, Flight of pigeon, 1887, bronze, 134 x 20 x 26 cm, Collège de France via Braun

Marey set up cameras on multiple axes to photograph pigeons and gulls in flight. He made synchronized drawings of the resulting images, and then sculpted them in plaster. Some he had cast in bronze in Naples. Braun found three surviving Marey sculptures, but I think there are four or five.

the wikipedia image of Marey’s zoetrope showing plaster sculptures of a gull in flight came from Paris Photo in 2009, so it was likely a vintage print

He depicted both isolated, individual frames, a series of birds—or depictions of the same bird, obviously. He installed ten sculptures of a pigeon in flight in a zoetrope, a “synthesis in relief” which permitted the “reanimation” of his images frozen in time. Braun documents a pigeon zoetrope—Marey actually called it a miroscope—in the Collège de France. According to this blog, a Marey zoetrope [also?] exists in the collection of the National Technical Museum in Prague, along side a large number of his chronophotographs.

after Marey, a 1986 resin cast of a gull in flight, commissioned by the Musée d’Orsay

Most fascinating, though, are the depiction of wings moving in flight as a single, contiguous sculpture. The object above is what blew my mind and started this post. It is a resin cast of a Marey sculpture created by? for? the Musée d’Orsay in 1986? It has a 2007 inventory number. In any case, it combines 19 images into one object they don’t even give dimensions for. The broken wing is not in the original.

Etienne-Jules Marey, Décomposition du vol d’un goéland, 1887, bronze, 60 x 19 x 23 cm, Musée Marey [sic], Beaune, via Braun

I think it is a cast of the Marey sculpture above, which Braun locates in Beaune, the town where Marey was born, and which thus claims to also be one of the birthplaces of cinema. There is or was a Musée Marey at some point, but the webpage for the sculpture is just from the town.

J-C Couval’s tiny photo of Marey’s sculpture in the Musée Marey, via

The sculpture has been loaned for exhibition 14 times, it says. The Musée des Beaux Arts is only open seasonally, but perhaps you can ask after the sculpture at the mairie, or the post office.

“Album H, Plate 10”: Marey photo of Georges Engrand sculpture of Fast run, a single phase, 1887, plaster, as published by Marta Braun in Picturing Time

And for some bonus Marey sculpture content, in 1887 Marey commissioned neo-classical artist Georges Engrand to make a series of plaster sculptures from a chronophotograph of a man running. Braun writes that Marey the objects and images in 1888 at the Academie des Sciences. According to the caption in Picturing Time, there is/are albums of photos of the sculptures of photos in Beaune. So now we all have to go. Or at least one person who has a scanner.