Henri LAURENS (1885 - 1954)
Reclining Woman, 1921
Bronze proof, #7/8
Lost wax cast by Claude Valsuani
H. 12, W. 30, D. 9 cm
France, Private Collection
Galerie Louise Leiris Collection Bo Boustedts
- "Henri Laurens, in the art and literary", Le Point, July 1946.
- Marthe Laurens, Henri Laurens, sculpteur (1885-1954), the years 1915 to 1924, Paris, 1955.
- Henri Laurens, galerie Claude Bernard, Paris, 1960.
- Kunstmuseum Bern – Hermann und Margrit Rupf-Stiftung, Bern, Eicher & Co, 1969, n°79.
- S. Kuthy, Henri Laurens, Berne, Musée des Beaux-Arts, 1985.
- Henri Laurens (1885-1954), Château de Biron, Dordogne, July 7-September 23, 1990.
- Henri Laurens, rétrospective, musée d’art moderne de la Communauté Urbaine de Lille, Villeneuve d’Ascq, December 12, 1992-April 12, 1993.
- Bérès, Anisabelle et Arveiller, Michel, Henri Laurens (1885-1954), galerie Bérès, Paris, October 20, 2004-January 8, 2005.
- Skulptur Bo Boustedts Samling, Goteborgs Konstmuseum, August 29 – October 6, 1963, reproduction p.17.
The year 1921 was a pivotal one for Laurens’ work; he had incorporated his study of cubism and was turning toward “a type of classical synthesis” with a very personal language. He’d met Braque in Montmartre In 1911 and had been struck by his collages. They developed a solid friendship, which led Laurens to become first a witness to and then, from 1914 on, a participant in the Cubist movement, which had inherited Cézanne’s understanding of how “to address nature through the cylinder, the sphere, and the cone . . .” In a burst of communal inspiration alongside his friends Braque and Picasso, he spent four years working almost exclusively on collages, mostly still lifes and portraits. Laurens saw in Cubism a way to free himself from a naturalistic representation of the human figure. Then in 1920, as the movement dissipated, he found a language that truly resonated with him, making the following two years particularly productive.
Without completely abandoning Cubist precepts, he went back to free-standing bronze sculpture. Volume and curve again became important to him, and the female figure became his principal theme. Among the smaller female figures that he did, quite a number are “reclining women.” But the Reclining Woman of 1921 is the first to show such an accomplished simplification of form. While his 1919 Reclining Nude with Fan, in the collection of the Centre Pompidou, and the 1921 Reclining Woman with Necklace are still markedly Cubist and feature detailed volumes, the 1921 Reclining Woman is clearly emancipated from Cubism and foreshadows his future evolution toward “calm” and timeless work based on simple volumes and curves. “I aspire to a ripening of forms. I’d like to be able to render them so full, so juicy, that nothing could be added to them” he once remarked. Depending upon their angles, the neatly cut plains and well-defined edges either collect or refract light, giving it a central role in the reading of the piece. Between the protrusions and the hollows, straight lines cohabit with curves. The forms, though geometric and juxtaposed, describe the female body as harmonious, and visual unity is rendered with a formal writing that is both heterogeneous and fragmented. Even though he uses a free and abstract language, Laurens never renounces the representation of the real, of the forms that he observes in nature. And yet, for him, subject matter is secondary: “Before being a representation of a given thing, my sculpture is an act of plasticity.” Stylized to the extreme, some of his forms borrow from the vocabulary of ornament in order to convey their details. For instance, the hair is composed of undulating parallel lines, the breasts are two small hemispheres, and the eye is a discrete triangle. Laurens uses and reuses this repertory of signs in many sculptures. His way of mining a catalogue of forms no doubt comes from his training in the studio of a decorator.
Though of modest size, this sculpture has the qualities of a monumental work. From the rhythm of the volumes to the generous forms, it gives an impression of stability and timeless calm. His concept of the feminine nude is based on his admiration for ancient art, notably the Greek. His small female sculptures are often described as “the Tanagras of modern times.” But equally, the woman’s position—reclining, facing out, her head straight, leaning on one elbow—recalls the reclining figures from Etruscan funerary monuments whose positions are derived from those of banqueters. The pose also evokes that of the ancient sphinx or sphinge, whose folded front paws and lion’s body against the ground recall the busts and the folded arm of this Reclining Woman.
It was also in 1921 that Laurens began working with Braque’s and Picasso’s dealer Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler (1884-1979). Kahnweiler saw in Laurens a “( . . . ) modest man with a lively intelligence (and ) the greatest French sculptor” of his age.
—In 1921, one of Kahnweiler’s close friends, the Swiss collector Hermann Rupf, bought a Reclining Woman numbered “II” from him at the Galerie Simon, which today is held in the collection of the fine arts museum in Berne.
—The sculpture described here, numbered 7/8, also came from Kahnweiler’s gallery, which became the Louise Leiris Gallery in 1940, the name of the dealer’s niece. The label from the gallery is still on the bottom of the piece. It went from there into the collection of the great Swedish collector and architect, Bo Boustedts (1919-2001).
—Another one from the series, cast by Valsuani and numbered 5/8, followed a similar itinerary, going from the Louis Leiris Gallery to the important collection of the Swedish doctor Carl Gemzell (1910-2007). That piece is currently in a private collection.
—And finally, as far as we know, there is one more sculpture from the series, also cast by Valsuani and numbered 6/8, which came from the Louise Leiris Gallery and is today also in a private collection.