Until 1924, Zadkine was in essence an investigative sculptor, his earlier works aligning themselves with the respective practices of Archipenko, Lipchitz, Picasso and at times, the Futurists. The primary basis of his artistic motivation had been an innate feeling for the nature of wood and stone and a resultantly innovative and expressive carving process. As A.M. Hammacher states, 'It was in 1924 or thereabouts, when his work was already formed and mature, that Zadkine went more deeply into the problem the Cubists had set, first for painting, then for sculpture. (...) the Zadkine whose style unfolded in accordance with his own nature was not the Zadkine of earlier years (...); the new Zadkine handled the forms and proportions of the body more freely, with an Expressionism that was no longer Latin, but was not German or Flemish either. The figures of mythical women rising out of the material and in the simple heads built up out of large surfaces, there is enough myth to give the figures airiness, the free flight of the poetic soul, but not enough to destroy belief in reality. Around 1924, Zadkine successfully adopted the convex-concave principle that had come to the fore in the sculpture of the Cubists, a principle that had not been unknown to him but which he had not quite yet applied. He did not handle it in a doctrinarian way; he used the principle more pictorially than Lipchitz. His work was more lyrical and had an element of the epic that was completely in keeping with his personality. (...) The figurative in Zadkine remains basic; the enclosed volume is all important. Concavity is used with moderation, and it never affects the volume essentially'. (A.M. Hammacher, The Evolution of Modern Sculpture, New York 1969, p. 151-152)
In reference to the surface elements, such as the incised lines and dramatic black details that are apparent in Jeune fille à la Colombe, Hammacher continues by saying that Zadkine 'likes to associate volume with the graphic by incising on the surface a hand, a flower, or, in the manner of the Sumerians, a poem. From time to time, preoccupied with the interpenetration of surfaces, the convex and concave, and the transparent - all of which elements derive from Cubism - he also makes Baroque figurative constructions with a relief character corresponding to emotional nature, which in later years manifests itself in a dramatic, sometimes stormy, expression.'
Jeune fille à la Colombe is an extraordinary, unique, gilt, example of the sculpture, conceived also for a bronze edition in 1928, that encapsulates the best-known characteristics of the artist’s work at this time. Its deep, golden patina has been achieved through the application of gold leaf atop a deep crimson painted layer to add depth to its radiance, a technique reminiscent of Russian icons and Byzantine altarpieces and achieving the same monumentality. The subject of the young, beautiful woman holding a dove a conveys a universal message of peace, purity, love and harmony, in line with the Jewish symbolism of the artist’s heritage, and also the figure of Aphrodite in Ancient Greek mythology whose symbol is the dove. He would depict a reworking of this motif in a full-length 1938 cast entitled Venus, removing the bird, with retaining a similar pose for the bust and similar contrasts in patina.
The darker accents on her hair and the wing of the bird, by contrast with her radiant, gold, torso, furthermore evoke the Golden Buddha, Phra Phuttha Maha Suwana Patimakon of Bangkok, Thailand. The Buddha had provided inspiration in earlier works of similar colouring from 1919 such as the gilt-wood Bouddha in the collection of the Musée Zadkine, Paris and Tete de jeune homme (fig. 1). As a result, Jeune fille à la Colombe assumes an emblematic quality with a serenity and gracefulness achieved through her subliminal counterparts throughout history and her undistorted, classical proportion. At the same time, spatial innovations between the concave and convex surfaces, produce dramatic silhouettes from every angle, a quintessentially avant-garde adaptation of form that unites with its material gloriousness in gold, to produce a modern icon of universal symbolic power and magnificence.
Formerly in the collection of Madame La Fleur, Jeune fille à la colombe was photographed in the studio of the illustrious fashion designer Jacques Doucet (fig. 2), as relayed by Joseph McBrinn: “Later in 1926 Doucet asked the architect Paul Ruaud to build a special display room into his Neuilly studio to house his collection, at the centre was his so-called Cabinet d’Orient, designed by Pierre Legrain, which Ghislaine Wood has described as ‘perhaps the most important exotic Art Deco Interior’ of the period (Benton, Benton and Wood, 2003, p. 134). It perfectly encapsulated the role of Orientalism in modernism as it mixed paintings by Giorgio de Chirico and Max Ernst with Persian ceramics and African tribal sculpture…” (in A. Myzelev & J. Potvin (Ed.), Fashion, Interior Design and the Contours of Modern Identity, London, 2010). The work subsequently resided in the collection of Félix Marchillac, the renowned Parisian collector and dealer of Art Deco and modern sculpture, attesting to its significance as a masterwork of that time.