Jacques Saly


Jacques Saly : biography

20 June 1717 – 4 May 1776

Saly worked hard to improve the Danish Academy after the model of the French Academy. He sought to bring about these changes, all the while working on his model of the equestrian statue for the king, the primary artistic work associated with his many years in Denmark.

Saly was also instrumental in bringing his friend from the French Academy and the years in Italy, fellow-countryman and architect Nicolas-Henri Jardin, to the attention of King Frederik V as the suitable choice to replace Nicolai Eigtved for the design and building of Frederik’s Church (Frederikskirke), now known as The Marble Church (Marmorkirken), work on which had had begun in 1749. A contract to bring Jardin to Denmark was concluded on 12 October 1754, a few months after Eigtved’s death, and Jardin took over Eigtved’s professorship at the Academy.

J.M. Preisler’s engraving of Saly’s equestrian sculpture of Frederik V on horseback. 1768-69.

In Copenhagen: The King and his statue

Saly showed the king the first sketch of the equestrian statue on 4 December 1754. The king approved a sketch for the whole monument in August 1755. Then Saly began a thorough study of horses from the king’s stalls. This resulted in a little model, which he showed the king in November 1758. Casts of this model are found in both the collection of the Academy and the State Collection, now the Danish National Gallery.

Saly also sculpted around this same time a life-size bust of the king, of which seven bronze casts were created, and a sculpture of Moltke, the head of the Asiatic Company, of which three bronze casts were created.

Saly, after having set up an appropriate studio, carried out the work on the large model of the equestrian statue 1761-1763, and the plaster cast was presented to the Academy members on 3 February 1764. The king also saw this model. Preparations for the bronze casting took four more years, and Frenchman Pierre Gors did the casting on 2 March 1768. 1768 is officially considered the statue’s completion date.

Johan Martin Preisler made a large engraving of the equestrian statue 1768-1769 in commemoration of its completion, and The Danish Asiatic Company cast two medallions, one by Wulff and the other by Daniel Jensen Adzer.

The base for the statue, however, was first deliverable in 1770, and the unveiling of the equestrian statue finally took place in the courtyard at Amalienborg Palace on 1 August 1771, five years after the King’s death in 1766. It commands the site still to this day, and has been restored 1997-1998.

The end of his days in Copenhagen

Saly held the post of Academy Director until 15 July 1771, two weeks before the equestrian statue’s unveiling. He quit in protest over a new set of rules that gave increased influence to native-born Danes. This all occurred during the oppressive reign of Johann Friedrich Struensee,

Saly was named Knight of the Order of St Michel in Paris, but was not allowed to bear the title while living in Denmark.

Saly, although no longer Director of the Academy, kept the apartment at Charlottenborg, from 1771 to at least 1774. During this time he tried to justify an additional sum from the Danish Asiatic Company for his extraordinary services on the monument to Frederik V, considering how much longer the statue took to complete than originally planned. He was not satisfied with the conclusion of his financial negotiations.

Return to Paris

He left for Paris along with his father on 2 July 1774; most of the other family members had died by this point. One of his two sisters had married a French sea officer in Danish service.

Back in Paris in 1775 he could now bear the title of Knight. He was named Senior Professor at the French Academy in Paris 29 July 1775. Already seriously ill when he left Denmark, he died on 4 May 1776. He had never married.


His artistic achievements are overshadowed by the monumental effort to create the equestrian statue of Frederik V of Denmark under the king’s absolute rule. Saly’s leading role at the Danish Academy of Art, during its early years helped establish the Academy as a force in art training not only in Scandinavia, but in Europe, and led the way to an emerging and strong Danish artist tradition..

In addition to the other Academy memberships already mentioned, Saly was also member of the academies in Marseilles (1762) and St. Petersburg (1768).

His sculptures are in the collections of the Statens museum for Kunst (Copenhagen), National Gallery of Art (Washington D.C., USA), Musée du Louvre (Paris), Musée des Beaux-Arts (Valenciennes, France) J. Paul Getty Museum (Los Angeles, California, USA), as well as in private collections.