D’Epinay was not a sculptor of just a decorative order. He had an impressive career and body of work. His busts of high society are well noted and include a portrait of Edward, Prince of Wales, which was purchased by Queen Victoria. He worked in London but also worked and exhibited in Paris and had studios in Rome and Mauritius. One of his best-known works is Joan of Arc, located in the Reims Cathedral. Most recently, in July 2018, d’Epinay’s marble Sylvie, a Romantic female nude depicted combing her hair, sold for an impressive $334,000 at Sotheby’s. As the auction house notes of his work in their July 2018 19th and 20th century Sculpture catalogue:
Prosper d’Épinay was responsible for some of the most beautiful and elegant marbles of female subjects made in the 19th century, a point that was underscored in 2015, when his Bonne Renommée sold for a record £800,000.
In 1874 d’Épinay presented La Ceinture dorée (The Golden Belt) at the Salon, an ‘ideal representation of the modern woman’ (Roux Foujols, op. cit., p. 36) that would become his most celebrated marble. Beginning with Ceinture dorée, d’Épinay created his very own, Second-Empire interpretation of the Greek ideal in his female nudes. Reverting to the roman elegance of Antonio Canova, he imbued his marble maidens with a languid softness of form, developing the néo-grec current cultivated by predecessors such as James Pradier. D’Épinay’s unique style, which combined Italian and French artistic traditions, was summarized by the critic Thiébaut-Sission in his 1887 article on the sculptor’s work as ‘L’Art élégant.’
Le Cyclone is a subject not often encountered in marble and that is what makes it all the more endearing. Marble is such an arduous and expensive medium to work in that many artists felt their subjects had to be lofty, important, and of great stature to support the time and effort needed to carve the piece. Here, two women, possibly sisters, are caught in an oncoming storm. The sculptor was surely taken by the challenge of depicting the wind whipping their garments and the ensuing difficulty of carving the fabric’s folds. While the work is on the smaller side, d’Epinay was clearly exercising his abilities. The success of the piece lies in its drama and postural uniqueness. Its fluidity and rhythm are extremely appealing. It has been noted that works by d’Epinay reflect his tendency to look back on sculptors such as Clodion and Marin. It is clear that d’Epinay has succeeded in pulling forward the liveliness of the best elements of their works and using those qualities in his own—especially at a time when many sculptors felt a bit more stilted.
The size of this work made it conducive to placement in collectors’ homes and there have been a few other versions of this piece to appear on the market, including a terra cotta iteration. There are small deviations amongst these pieces, primarily evident in the base area. The number of them that exist is a testament to the work’s positive reception.
P. Roux Foujols, Prosper d’Épinay (1836-1914): Un mauricien a la cour des princes, Mauritius, 1966, p.50