Henri LAURENS (1885 - 1954)
Reclining Woman, Frontal View, 1921

Bronze proof
#II Sand cast, with no founder’s mark
H: 14 W: 39.5 cm
H: 5,51 ; W: 15,55 in
Label on the back: Kunsthalle Basel N°3574; Galerie Simon, 6741; Umelecka Beseda de Prague, 1931; Berlin, K.-L. Skutsch


-Paris, Galerie Simon (n°6741)
-Bern, Hermann Rupf Collection
-Berlin, Karl Ludwig Skutsch (acquired in 1956) -Berlin, Private collection


-Henri Laurens, sculpteur (1885-1954), années (years) 1915 à 1924, Marthe Laurens, 1955, repr. p. 95 (bronze proof).
-Cécile Goldscheider, Laurens, Kiepenheuer & Witsch, 1956, repr. n°11b (bronze proof).
-"Henri Laurens (1885-1954), Skulpturen, Collagen, Zeichnungen, Aquarelle, Druckgraphik, Bestandskatalog und Ausstellungskatalogue Oeuvreverzeichnis der Druckgraphik", März-April 1985, repr.n°3, p.20 (épreuve en bronze).
-Henri Laurens, Musée d’art moderne Villeneuve d’Ascq, RMN, 1992.


-L’Ecole de Paris : francouzske moderni umeni, Prague, Umelecka Beseda, 1931.
-Basel, Kunsthalle Basel, 1940 ?, n°3574.


“The first Cubist works seemed hallucinatory to me. I didn’t understand them right away, but they filled me with an inexplicable agitation. They emanated a miracle that confounded me.”[1]

When he met Braque in 1911 and saw his pasted papers, Henri Laurens experienced a real aesthetic shock. They were both living in Montmartre at the time and had struck up a friendship based on their mutual admiration of Cezanne and their attempts to put into practice his recommendation to “address nature through the cylinder, the sphere, the cone...”[2]According to Martha Laurens, their research brought them to Henri’s studio, where they drew figures on the walls.[3]

During his early years of Cubist experimentation, Laurens worked mostly in pasted papers, such as Still Life with Guitar (1918), and polychrome reliefs, such as Head from 1917, in which he pushed geometrical stylization to extremes. With Braque and Picasso, he studied the decomposition of forms and volumes to the point of abstraction.

The dealer Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler considered Laurens’ pasted papers as truly “the finest flower of Cubism.”[4] Quickly charmed by Lauren’s personality and by his passion for music, which Kahnweiler shared, the latter offered him a contract from April 1920 on. He had just reopened his gallery in the rue d’Astorg, which had been closed during the war. Laurens was the second and last sculptor that Kahnweiler took on. The first, the Catalan sculptor Manolo, had been collaborating with him since 1912.

At this point—around 1920—Laurens was principally interested in the female form examined from various angles and attitudes. His stylistic choices are readily recognizable: large hips and buttocks, generous thighs, and a small bust. The hair falls over itself in thick tresses depicted through undulating parallel lines. The round forms of the thighs, breasts, and belly are harmoniously juxtaposed to the extremely angular lines of the legs and nose. These features taken together testify to his investigation of the construction of volumes in a single plane; his aesthetic treatment of this question constituted his principal axis of interest.[5] Sculptures such as Reclining Nude with a Fan from 1919[6] and Reclining Woman with a Necklace from 1921 are built up of a complex network of planes and angles, similar to Picasso’s 1909 Head of a Woman[7], which was sculpted in facets.

The 1921 Reclining Woman, Frontal View, on the other hand, displays Laurens’ talents as a renderer; it plays with low reliefs rather than with deeply carved volumes, as does his Reclining Woman, Back View from the same year. This second is not the counter to the first, but works as its pendant, or even as its negative.[8] Laurens repeated this positive/negative treatment of a figure in his two drawings Nude from the Front and Nude from the Back, suppressing the perspective available to two-dimensional work.

Of the eight proofs of the Reclining Woman, Frontal View that were made, four have been located: the one presented here is number 2, numbers 5 and 6 are held in private collections, and number 7 is in the Sprengel Museum in Hanover. As for its pendant, the Reclining Woman, Back View, only two proofs are known, both in private collections.

More completely freed from Cubism, the Reclining Woman, a sculpture in the round from 1921, with its curved, voluminous forms, prefigures Laurens’ future direction, evolving toward a calm and timeless style, which achieved its apogee in The Woman Leaning on her Elbow of 1927, which is remarkable for it simple curves and forms.

[1] Henri Laurens, Musée d’art moderne Villeneuve d’Ascq, RMN, 1992, p. 274-275.
[2] Sylvie Ramond, “L’amitié à l’œuvre, Braque et Laurens,” (“Friendship at Work: Braque and Laurens”) Braque/Laurens, un dialogue autour des collections du Centre Pompidou, musée national d’art moderne et du musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon, musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon, October 25, 2005 – January 30, 2006.
[3] “1911 : Braque came to Laurens’ studio one day and explained something with a few lines drawn on the wall [ . . .] It was a sudden window thrown open onto liberty and the start of all the sculpture known as cubist, as well as of the pasted papers.” Marthe Laurens, Henri Laurens sculpteur, Paris 1955.
[4] Patrick Waldberg, Henri Laurens ou la femme placée en abîme, Le Sphinx/Veyrier, 1980, p. 66.
[5] “When I begin a sculpture, I have only the vaguest idea of what I’d like to make. For instance, I may have the notion of a woman, or of something that is somehow related to the sea. Before being a representation of some other thing, my sculpture is an aesthetic fact, or, more precisely, a series of aesthetic events, the product of my imagination in response to the demands of construction. That is, in short, what my work entails. I give it its title at the very end.” Henri Laurens, cited in Paule Chavasse, Cubism and its Time, a series of six emissions on France III, 1961-1962, archives INA.
[6] Held in the Musée national d’art moderne in Paris, inv. AM 1539 S.
[7] Bronze proof held in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of New York, inv. 1996.403.6.
[8] The two female figures face the same direction, which supports the claim that they can’t be the two sides of the same relief.