This is undoubtedly Gautier’s most renowned work. Little is known about his life. After training in the workshop of the great romantic sculptor Rude, Gautier produced many bronze art models for various foundries. He made this plaster Mephistopheles in 1853. At the Exposition universelle of 1855, a bronze was exhibited in the industrial bronze section, a cast of which was acquired by Napoleon III for his office.
Mephistopheles was a character in the medieval Faustian legend who, in turn, was an evil genius, a pitiful fallen angel and a demon of knowledge aspiring to dominate the world in order to destroy it. The character of Mephistopheles became very popular in the romantic era up to the Second Empire, with Goethe's Faust (1773) bringing a new metaphysical and human dimension to it, and inspiring Berlioz, Schumann and Liszt, as well as Gounod’s Opera and Delacroix’s drawings. In a scene by Schumann, Marguerite takes refuge in the cathedral: a liturgical chant and a Satanic motif clash when the Dies Irae (Day of Wrath) finally overcomes the scorn of Mephistopheles, the evil spirit, who is forced to flee. Here he seems to adopt this attitude of withdrawal, both constrained and scoffing. The grotesquely elongated yet sophisticated character delighted and amused opera lovers: in the romantic era, caricatures were fashionable, along with a taste for the macabre. Here there is no metaphysical connotation, but a character who is amusingly disingenuous and sarcastic, hiding his diabolical shoe behind his back.