«Jeunesses» d’Odessa

Sculpture-fountain “Youth” (French “Jeunesses”) is the original name of this sculptural composition. Residents of Odessa usually named it “Children and the Frog” or “Narcissus”.

A charming white marble sculpture, installed on a concrete pedestal, is now located at 6 Lanzheronovskaya Street, in front of the Naval Museum (formerly the English Club), on the side of the Opera House. On a high hillock, covered with thick grass, three cheerful children are sitting, in the middle of them, in the center, is an older girl. Hugging the smallest of the guys by the shoulders, she prudently holds him so that the baby does not fall. Gently pressing their heads together, the children laugh quietly, bewitchedly peering at the frog sitting opposite. And the amphibian sitting on the edge of the fountain bowl carelessly lets out a stream of water from its mouth. It seems that the children froze so as not to inadvertently scare the frog, and this silence, its sensation, is, as it were, transmitted to the viewer.

The fountain sculpture is a famous work of the early twentieth century. Its author was a French sculptor Max Blondat. He presented her to the public in 1904 at the Paris Art Salon. The works of the young sculptor were very popular. And the new statue was no exception. It has caused unprecedented delight among art lovers, has won many awards at European and American exhibitions. There were a lot of people who wanted to buy Blondat’s creation, but there was only one sculpture. Then its author found a way out of this situation by making several replicas, each of which eventually had some differences from the original either in size or in individual details, obviously due to the wishes of the customers themselves. The decorative design of the stone in each case was different, only the figures of children remained identical in all existing replicas. Thanks to this, the newly created sculptures of the fountain of the same name were able to delight visitors to German Dusseldorf, American Denver, French Dijon and Swiss Zurich. And, of course, one of the replicas of the talented master ended up in Odessa in 1905-1907.

Fountain-sculpture “Youth”, 1904, original by Max Blondat

Local historians believe that the original sculptural composition “Children and the Frog” adorned the summer house of the famous jeweler Akim Biski (father of the poet and translator Alexander Biski) at 26 French Boulevard, where the educational buildings of Odessa University are now located.

In the post-revolutionary period, the sculpture from the pride of an elite estate turned into a public property, and since 1925 it has been installed on Theatre Square.

Interestingly, the image of a fountain with cute children and a frog could be seen on German banknotes of the 1920s with a denomination of 5 million marks. And this is not surprising – for 90 years it was the highlight of the palace park of Dusseldorf, the capital of German Westphalia. It was here that the fountain appeared earlier than other cities. Now its marble original is “guarded” by the walls of the city museum. And in the city park there is a replica made of shell rock, in which the children are already made of bronze, in order to avoid damage by vandals. Unlike the Odessa fountain, the German plot contains not one, but three frogs. He is considered to be the most elegant of all of the above. Its sophisticated details involuntarily inspired the Germans with the stories of the Brothers Grimm Frog King they heard in childhood, which is why the name “Fairy Fountain” was assigned to it.

It is interesting that in addition to the aforementioned replicas of the famous sculpture “Children and the Frog” in the world there are many small-form sculptures in the Art Nouveau or Neo-Baroque style, which were made by the master Blonda himself many years ago. Among them is a plaster project of the fountain itself, sold at Sotheby’s in 2006 for 9,000 euros, and a wide variety of household items – from a porcelain inkwell and a bronze ashtray to figurines made of wood and velvet, the creation of which was based on everything the same life-affirming plot “Jeunesses”.

The picturesque fountain was often reproduced on their canvases by artists; its image was and is a real decoration of photographs and postcards of different times. Once in Odessa, on a summer day in 1933, he even got into the lens of the French reporter for the weekly Den, the future master of the detective genre Georges Simeon, along with other local attractions.

The “Children and the Frog” survived the Second World War and the occupation. As if their reward for many years of hardship and devastation was a sea of ​​flowers of daisies, which adorned the flowerbed with a monument in the post-war peacetime.

Fountain-sculpture “Youth” on the Romanian postcard from the period of occupation

Years later, in 1970, the sculpture-fountain was moved closer to the Museum of the Navy, and a large, multi-jet fountain was erected in the same place.

Since 2008, the fountain has been included in the list of monuments and objects of cultural heritage of Odessa. However, this fact did not put an end to the suffering of the Children and the Frog fountain at the hands of vandals. The frog is not genuine for a long time, and more than once it has been replaced with a copy instead of the stolen ones. But despite this, the monument continues to live.

Fountain-sculpture “Youth” after moving to the building of the English club (Photo: Vasily Fertyuk, 1970s)

Main photo: Kirill Pecherik

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