• The Art of the Surreal Evening auction at Christies

    Sale 7903

    The Art of the Surreal Evening Sale

    2 February 2010, London, King Street

  • Lot 113

    Jean (Hans) Arp (1887-1966)


    Price Realised  


    Jean (Hans) Arp (1887-1966)
    painted wood relief in the artist's painted frame
    27 5/8 x 33 5/8 in. (70.3 x 85.5 cm.)
    Executed in 1932

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    'If you try to shoot a cloud down with a bow and arrow you'll be wasting your arrows. However, many sculptors seem to go in for this curious form of hunting. Here's what you should do: you should charm the cloud with a violin air played on a drum or a drum air played on a violin. Then very quickly you'll see the cloud descend and roll about on the ground with pleasure until, out of pure gratitude, it has turned to stone. Like that a sculptor can produce the most beautiful sculpture before you can say Jack Robinson'(Arp quoted by M. Seuphor in 'Twenty Pre-Texts and a Whispered Envoi for Jean Arp's Reliefs', in B. Rau: Hans Arp: Die Reliefs Oeuvre-Katalog, Stuttgart, 1981, p. XXII).

    Consisting purely of simple forms derived, but not copied, from nature, this 1932 wood relief conjures a sense of a magical world of natural growth and order coexisting within a harmonious cosmic whole. Arp's deceptively simple aesthetic aim was: 'Construction in terms of lines, planes, shapes and colour (that,) despising artifice, presumption, imitation and the carnival tricks of the trade... aspire to the spiritual, to a mystical reality' (Arp, exh. cat., Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1958, p. 26).

    Looking like an imagined impression or a dream-image of a microscopic world of abundant amoebic life, reliefs like Constellation articulate a complete worldview. It is a vision of the world as a cosmic soup made up of living particles, infused with a natural and spiritual order and rhythm through the creative energy and intuitive skill of the artist. Arp's creative search for an 'elemental art' was also one for a constructive order. His embracing of Nature and what he described as the 'laws' of chance, was also a spiritual search. Arp's artistic actions and decisions attempt to draw on the innate logic and patterns of nature, thus to some extent emulating the 'hand of a divine Creator. As he pointed out early in his career, he did not wish to work 'from Nature' as so many artists had before him, but instead 'to be natural'. 'I made my first experiments with free forms,' he explained, 'I looked for new constellations of form such as nature never stops producing. I tried to make forms grow. I put my trust in the example of seeds, stars, clouds, plants, animals, men, and finally my own innermost being' (loc. cit.)

    Special Notice

    VAT rate of 5% is payable on hammer price and at 17.5% on the buyer's premium.


    Acquired directly from the artist by the father of the present owner circa 1933-1934.

    Saleroom Notice

    Please note the additional exhibition history for this work:

    Remagen, Arp Museum Bahnhof Rolandseck, Hans Arp. Die Natur der Dinge, September 2007 - March 2008, no. 62 (illustrated p. 161).

    Pre-Lot Text



    G. Buffet-Picabia, Jean Arp, Paris, 1952 (illustrated; dated 1928). J. Cathelin, Arp, Paris, 1959, no. 34 (illustrated).
    S. Poley, Hans Arp, Die Formensprache im plastischen Werk, Stuttgart, 1978, no. 97 (illustrated p. 68).
    Hatje (ed.), Hans Arp, Die Reliefs, Oeuvre-Katalog, Stuttgart, 1981, no. 243 (illustrated p. 119).
    Exh. cat., Nach dem Gesetz des Zufalls geordnet, Kunstmuseum, Basel, 1982 (photo of work in the 1944 exhibition, p. 11).


    Basel, Kunsthalle, Konkrete Kunst, March - April 1944.
    Paris, Musée National d'Art Moderne, Arp, February - April 1962, no. 164 (dated 1928).
    Basel, Kunsthalle, Hans Arp, 1962, no. 83 (dated 1928); this exhibition later travelled to Humlebaek, Louisiana Museum, August - September 1962, no. 81, Stockholm, Moderna Museet, and London, Tate Gallery, November - December 1962, no. 84.
    Remagen, Arp Museum Bahnhof Rolandseck, Hans Arp. Die Natur der Dinge, September 2007 - March 2008, no. 62 (illustrated p. 161).