Julio Gonzalez (1876-1942)
Le Couple
signed with initials 'J.G.' (on the back)
forged iron
Length: 7½ in. (19 cm.)
Executed circa 1927-1929; unique
Roberta González, L'Hay-les-Roses.
Galerie Denise René, Paris (by 1956).
Galerie Krugier et Cie., Geneva.
Anon. sale, Maître Binoche, Paris, 18 November 1972, lot 186.
Acquired by the present owner, circa 1975.
L. Fernández, "El escultor González" in A.C., 1932, p. 30 (illustrated).
Le Point, 1972, p. 82 (illustrated).
J. Merkert and J. González, Catalogue raisonné: des sculptures, Milan, 1987, no. 96 (illustrated).
Paris, Galerie de France, Julio González, 1931.
Brussels, Galerie le Centaure, Julio González, May-June 1931, no. 10.
Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, Julio González, April-May 1955, no. 26.
Kunsthalle Bern and La Chaux-de-Fonds, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Julio González, July-September 1955, no. 12.
New York, Museum of Modern Art, Julio González, February-June 1956, p. 6, no. 2 (illustrated, p. 9).
Hannover, Kestner-Gesellschaft; Krefeld, Museum Haus Lange and Dortmund, Museum am Ostwall, Julio González, November 1957-May 1958, p. 6, no. 13 (illustrated).
Stuttgart, Württembergischer Kunstverein, Eisen-und Stahlplastik 1930-1970, August-October 1970, p. 73, no. 24 (illustrated).
Zurich, Art Focus and New York, Dickinson Gallery, Julio González: A Retrospective exhibition, March-June 2002, p. 42, no. 8 (illustrated, p. 43).

Lot Essay

Alongside Brancusi, Picasso, and Giacometti, Julio González is widely acclaimed as one of the foremost innovators of modern sculpture. During the last fifteen years of his life, the Barcelona native--a decorative metalsmith and consummate craftsman by training--pioneered the direct working of metal as a medium for sculpture, creating a revolutionary series of forged and welded iron compositions. The present sculpture was executed circa 1927-1929, at the very beginning of this mature period and a critical juncture in González's career. It was in 1927, a year shy of his fiftieth birthday, that González produced his first sculptures in iron and began to consider dedicating himself to sculpture rather than ornamental metalwork. The following year marked the beginning of a celebrated period of collaboration between González and Picasso, which lasted until 1931 and served as the immediate catalyst for González's emergence as a major sculptor in his own right. Over the course of the next decade, Margit Rowell has written, "González transformed the face of twentieth-century sculpture... A material was no longer a medium in the literal sense but the basic determinant of form. A technique was no longer relegated to the hands of a master craftsman or technician but remained in the hands of the artist alone. In fact, it was through the artist's direct realization of his work--the direct forging of metals --that the new vision of sculpture as we know it today was born" (Julio González, A Retrospective, exh. cat., Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 1983, p. 30).

The present sculpture depicts a reclining man and woman locked in an embrace. The angular, faceted volumes and stylized, mask-like faces reveal González's assimilation of the lessons of Parisian Cubism (indeed, in a text published in Cahiers d'Art in 1937, González referred specifically to Picasso's Cubist constructions), while the inclusion of unmodulated pieces of scrap iron--rectangular bars for the arms, flat slabs for the torsos--anticipates the distinctive idiom of González's final decade. González had explored the theme of the reclining couple earlier in his career, in a terracotta sculpture from 1914 with rounded, naturalistic volumes and a decided overtone of violence (Merkert, no. 23; Succession González, Paris). He returned to the theme in 1934-1936 in a series of three heavily abstracted compositions, each conventionally titled Personnage allongé (in the singular) but interpreted by Merkert as a depiction of a couple (Merkert, nos. 206-208; The Museum of Modern Art, New York, and Private collections; on the subject matter, see p. 75). At around the same time that he sculpted the present work, González also made a closely related version that omits the male figure and shows the female figure alone (Merkert, no. 97; Baltimore Museum of Art). The original owner of this sculpture was the painter and art dealer John Graham, González's first American collector, who purchased it directly from the artist. Graham was close friends at the time with the sculptor David Smith, who was fascinated by González's use of welding as a sculptural technique; Smith would later refer to González as "the father of all iron sculpture of this century" and "the first master of the torch" (quoted in J. Merkert, op. cit., p. 332). In 1933, Smith produced his earliest group of forged sculptures, one of which was directly inspired by the reclining female figure by González that he had seen in Graham's collection (see M. Rowell, op. cit., p. 82).

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