Michel Victor Acier

Tchaikovsky Research

French sculptor and maternal great-grandfather of the composer (b. 6 August 1736 [N.S.] at Versailles; d. 17 February 1799 [N.S.] at Dresden).


Coming from the French petite bourgeoisie, Michel Victor Acier was the first artist in the family, and was the son of Victor Acier and his wife Maria Claude (b. Descaves). He studied at the Académie Royale in Paris where his teachers probably were Etienne M. Falconet and Louis Claude Vassé. In 1759, he competed for the Grand Prix de sculpture of the former Ecole académique, but without success. So he specialised in smaller plastic art, although his career seems not to have been very promising. In 1764, he decided to accept the offer of going to Saxony to work as modelleur at the Meissner Porzellanmanufaktur, where according to his contract he was entitled to retire after a period of 15 years. As the impoverished Saxony government was not able to support the art of sculpture, Acier turned to Prussia, where Frederick the Great was seeking foreign sculptors to realise his ambitious architectural projects. Acier's most substantial work, a marble Hautrelief showing the heroic death of General Schwerin, was created in 1783 and established him at Bohrau/Silesia in the kingdom of Prussia. In 1787, he was made an honorary member of the Prussian academy of arts.

Michel Victor Acier married Maria Christina Eleonora Wittig (b. 1746/47; d. 7 May 1811 at Dresden), and they had six children:

  1. Maria Teresia Ignatia (baptised 3 October 1768 at Dresden; died 18 June 1830); in 1784 she married for the first time to the composer and Hofkapellmeister Joseph Schuster (1748–1812); in 1813 she remarried to Georg August von Manteuffel (1765–1842)
  2. Ioannes Baptista Carolus Victor Ignatius (baptised 8 June 1771 at Dresden)
  3. Johann Christian Victor (born 11 October 1773 at Meissen)
  4. Maria Sophia Augusta Amalia (born 7 August 1775 at Meissen; died after 1720)
  5. Michael Heinrich Maximilian (born 26 December 1778 at Meissen; died 23 June/5 July 1835 at Saint Petersburg); later known in Russia as Andrey Assier, grandfather of the composer
  6. Maria Josepha Henrietta (baptised 25 June 1781 at Dresden; died 8 May 1782 at Dresden)

The historians of Meissen porcelain do not speak very favourably of Acier. Their critical judgement reflects not only upon him personally, but the whole period after the Seven-Years' war, when the whole trade endured a crisis. The old baroque style represented by Acier's predecessor (and often antagonist) Johann Joachim Kaendler came to be considered outdated, and porcelain production had to be orientated towards more bourgeois tastes. A recent dissertation on this so-called “Marcolini-period” of the Meissen porcelain manufacture attempts to draw a more balanced picture, and it shows how Acier tried to realise the new tendencies of both classicism and sentimentalism. In the 1770s, the traditional allegorical or grotesque themes were replaced by groups depicting intimate family scenes like Die glücklichen Eltern, Die gute Mutter or Der gute Vater. The figurines wear the usual costume of their time, yet in situations based directly on everyday life. Acier remains best-known for his sculptures of children.

Besides these purely sculptural works, Acier was also involved in the production of tableware. Bearing in mind his relationship to Tchaikovsky, it is of special interest that in his period the most important orderings of sumptuous sets came from Russia. The first work of this kind in which Acier participated was a dining service for Count Grigory Orlov commissioned in 1770. From 1772 to 1775 the efforts of the entire manufacturing staff were concentrated on the 40-table groups forming the so-called “Big Russian ordering” of Catherine the Great. Also noteworthy was a composition of 1774 showing the victorious field marshal P. A. Rumiantsev-Zadunaisky.

Among Acier's last works in his duty as porcelain sculptor was a set for prince Nikolay Repnin, completed in 1781. Unfortunately, we cannot be sure to what degree these works provided an opportunity for Acier to have personal contacts with Russians, so we can only speculate that his son might have used such contacts to go to Saint Petersburg, where he seems to have been well established from the beginning of his own career [1].


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Notes and References

  1. We are grateful to Lucinde Braun for supplying the information for this article from her latest research. See also the Bibliography above.