• Christies auction house James Christie logo

    Sale 7543

    The Art of the Surreal (immediately following the Impressionist and Modern Art, Evening Sale)

    4 February 2008, London, King Street

  • Lot 182

    Julio González (1876-1942)

    Tête au miroir

    Price Realised  

    Julio González (1876-1942)
    Tête au miroir
    signed and numbered 'J. Gonzalez 3/3' (on the side of the sculpture); stamped with the foundry mark 'E. Godard Fondr' (on the back of the sculpture)
    bronze with brown patina
    Height: 22¾ in. (57.8 cm.)
    Conceived circa 1934, this bronze was cast in a numbered edition of three plus four further casts marked 0, 00, EA, HC at a later date


    Contact Client Service
    • info@christies.com

    • New York +1 212 636 2000

    • London +44 (0)20 7839 9060

    • Hong Kong +852 2760 1766

    • Shanghai +86 21 6355 1766

    Tête au miroir is one of González 's most extreme and memorable figurative abstractions. Executed in 1934, this extraordinary and dramatic sculpture portrays the head of a woman looking into a mirror with a stunning economy of means.

    Building on the three dimensional Cubist construction of planar form, that González had learned through his collaboration with Picasso and which he had come to describe as a process of 'drawing in space', in Tête au miroir González further refined this essentially abstracting process to the point where he was able to capture his subject with only four simple and distinct constructional elements. In this outrageously simple work, González conveys both the face of the woman and the mirror with its own reflective face, in one single flat moulded disc that projects from an arc which also doubles as the outline of the back of the woman's head, and the curve of the arm that holds the mirror. At the top of this dramatic yet simple arc, wild spikes of parted hair almost naturalistically rendered lend the sculpture an organic sense of life, bestowing on it a distinct personality, as well as an airy sense of completeness. Blurring the lines between figuration and abstraction, González sculpts in a unique middle ground between the two that infuses the space around and within the work with an aura of meaning and a powerful sense of presence.

    The subject of the woman with a mirror is one that had particular appeal for González, as it recalled for him the story of the myth of Narcissus - an interest which he shared with his long-time friend Constantin Brancusi. This theme is the subject of several of Gonzalez's early gouaches, as well as that of what would become his greatest sculptures, the three Femme se coiffant and his towering Tête au miroir of 1937. In Tête au miroir González has taken the Narcissist theme of a subject reflecting upon itself to a formal extreme, by basing the entire structure of the sculpture on the form of a circle enclosing on itself. This basic geometry, like much of the sculpture, is rendered with a strange but simple symmetry that reinforces the sense of ambiguity and reflection in the work. In the same way that the circular outline of the head also doubles as its arm, and the mirror doubles also as the face, a similar sense of reflective and/or ambiguous symmetry runs through the simple geometry of the work. The empty and open space encircled by the arc of the head/arm is intersected at an almost violent angle by a smaller solid circle, forming the mirror/face, in a way that not only generates this sense of space, but which also deliberately accentuates the contrast of solid and void. In the same way the flat disc of the face suggests both the act of looking and the reflection that is seen. In the mirror, this geometrical play between opposites sets up a similar notion of forms echoing one another across a visual divide.

    The severity of this clever formal play with the geometry of abstracted form is offset at the top of the work by the whimsical naturalism with which González has rendered the woman's spiky hair. Deriving partly from Picasso's similar stylized use of such figurative forms in both his painting and in the sculptures that he made with González, this playful biomorphic element also echoes the humour of some of Joan Miró's paintings from the same period.

    Cutting across the prevailing and supposedly opposing tendencies of Surrealism and Constructivism, the unique combination of geometrical abstraction and whimsical figuration apparent in this work establishes it as inhabiting a new and potent middle-ground between the two, that was only to be fully realized by the Abstract Expressionist generation in America.


    Special Notice

    VAT rate of 5% is payable on hammer price and at 15% on the buyer's premium


    Provenance

    Galerie de France, Paris.
    Acquired from the above by the present owner in July 1987.


    Literature

    L. Degand, Julio González, Modern Sculptors, Amsterdam, 1958, no. 16 (another cast illustrated).
    V. Aguilera Cerni, Julio, Joan, Roberta González - Itinerario de una dinastia, Barcelona, 1973, no. 222 (another cast illustrated p. 267).
    J. Beckelmann, 'Spaniens Kraft und Trauer', in Volksblatt, Berlin, 4 September 1983 (another cast illustrated).
    B. Growe, 'Eiserne Dithyramben', in Welkunst, Munich, 1 August 1983, no. 15, p. 2004 (another cast illustrated p. 2005).
    J. Merkert, Julio González: catalogue raisonné des sculptures, Milan, 1987, no. 153 (another cast illustrated pp. 154-155).


    Exhibited

    Paris, Galerie de France, Sculpture par González, 1987.