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Hood Museum of Art
Dartmouth College
Hanover, NH 03755

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Henri Laurens, French, 1885-1954

Standing Female Nude (Femme nue debout)
Unglazed buff terracotta
Purchased through the William B. Jaffe and Evelyn A. Jaffe Hall Fund; S.964.174

Beginning in 1914 and 1915, Jacques Lipchitz, one of the most innovative sculptors of the twentieth century, produced a number of bronzes that brilliantly explored the potential of cubism as a sculptural language. Following the lead of Pablo Picasso and others, Lipchitz designed these pieces in a manner that defied traditional conventions of sculpture as a static, commemorative art form. At the heart of all of his early creations, no matter how abstract they appeared, was an anthropomorphic focus. “In them,” he later wrote, “I was definitely building up and composing the idea of the human figure from abstract sculptural elements of line, plane, volume, [and] of mass contrasted with void completely realized in three dimensions." Over the course 109 of his long career Lipchitz created a variety of forms, believing that cubism could be infinitely modified to express individual feelings and emotions.

The small terracotta is a rare preparatory work for one of the bronzes. Lipchitz’s preferred practice was to begin modeling his composition in clay, after which—when he was satisfied with it—he would fire it in a kiln in preparation for a large plaster maquette to serve as a mold. Few of his study pieces survive. The plaster version would then be used to make a bronze cast, generally in editions of seven.

Like Lipchitz, the Parisian-born Henri Laurens played a pivotal role in developing the vocabulary of cubism as a sculptural style during the second decade of the twentieth century. He was introduced to modern art through his friendship with Georges Braque, but he was also influenced by the three-dimensional constructions of Picasso. Laurens began in 1919 to experiment with cutouts and superimposed planes in bas-relief—initially in stone and terracotta—that was both uncolored and polychromed. Soon afterward he turned to the execution of freestanding sculptures, which became more clearly figurative but retained angular, faceted forms.

Standing Female Nude is a study of line and plane as formal compositional elements from which the figure is constructed rather than modeled. Yet, in spite of the innovative treatment of surfaces and volumes, Laurens consciously employs a conventional subject to highlight his relationship to a long-established figurative tradition. The diminutive scale of the sculpture is also associated with the history of statuettes dating back to antiquity. Ultimately, as Laurens himself noted, “Tradition is continuous beneath the appearances of the epochs."

Last Updated: 1/18/10