During the mid-1920s, Laurens began to turn away from the planar and angular style of his early cubist sculpture, as he took a more biomorphic and organic approach to form, tinged with the prevailing classicism of that era, which infused his work with softness and sensuality. He became interested in the form of the figure as a whole, instead of regarding it as a sum of parts, and he sought to impart to his figures a more naturally rhythmic dynamism. He imposed upon himself a formal regimen, which required him to "[open] up the volume and [create] a flowing interpenetration of torso and limbs," (quoted in W. Hofmann, The Sculpture of Henri Laurens, New York, 1970, p. 42). His female figures would remain robustly voluptuous through the end of his career, and in accordance with classical principles, he placed an increasing emphasis on large and fully integrated figures meant to be viewed in the round, like the present La Lune.
Laurens often took up themes from Greco-Roman mythology and reinterpreted them in his works. Laurens likely intended the circular motion of the figure's upraised arms in La Lune to represent the roundness of the full moon; the figure of the woman thereby embodies the ebb and flow of the feminine lunar cycle. This gesture may also be linked to the mythical figure of Ariadne; she was in Greek legend the daughter of King Minos of Crete, and aided the hero Theseus in killing the Minotaur and escaping from her father's labyrinth. Theseus later abandoned her, and the gesture in which she raised her arms around her head in supplication and lamentation became the convention by which she was usually depicted in classical sculpture. Ingres adapted this gesture for the odalisque at lower right in his painting Le Bain Turc, 1865 (fig. 1). Picasso alluded to this pose in his Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, 1907 (Zervos, vol. 2, no. 18; The Museum of Modern Art, New York). Here Laurens has turned to it as well, although in this instance he has divested this gesture of its original emotive intensity, and instead employs it to represent a formal idea that generates the essential lunar symbolism.
The sculptures that Laurens created during the German occupation of France in 1940-1944 expressed sadness and resignation. Now, following the Liberation, his work began to manifest a more hopeful, even hedonistic outlook. This period is dominated by references to past works. Like the moon in its phases, Laurens had come full circle, having returned to the cylindrical bodies and figure-blocks of the late 1920s. He maintained in La Lune the basic shape of the stone block; as the sculpture is viewed in the round, the contours of the body appear to conform to the shape of a cylinder. This female figure has taken on the shape of a figure eight. The configuration of the bust and circling arms in the upper part of the figure is mirrored in the bent legs in the lower part, with both halves joined by the narrow waist. Laurens has joined the arms and breasts of the upper body into the flowing curves of a circular arabesque.
La Lune is a massive, self-contained figure with imposing authority, and yet it still manages to be supple and maternal. Laurens has here drawn on ancient matriarchal myth; the female La Lune an all-powerful, natural and life-giving force, while at the same time she is seductively sensual, the embodiment of femininity in all its aspects. Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler wrote, "Each of Laurens' works is a consistent, integral whole, but at the same time it is imbued with a gentle sensuousness" (quoted in ibid., p. 50).
(fig 1.) Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, Le Bain turc, 1865. Musée du Louvre, Paris. BARCODE 26007472