Filled with an impressive dynamism rendered from a striking economy of means, Danseuse à la palette is one of Julio González’s revolutionary linear metal sculptures. Conceived circa 1934, this work dates from a period of prolific invention during which the artist united his unique skill at metalwork with a novel artistic vision. Following González’s collaboration with Pablo Picasso in the late 1920s, his artistic direction came into full focus, as he began to pursue the aesthetic potential of welded iron sculpture. One of a series of abstract, full-length figures, other examples of which reside in the Tate, London and The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Danseuse à la palette encapsulates the spatial freedom that González’s innovative constructive approach to sculpture allowed. “They illustrate the vision, logic and skills of a man who thinks, sees and assembles directly in metal,” Margit Rowell has described (Julio González: A Retrospective, exh. cat., Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 1983, p. 21). As such, it was works such as Danseuse à la palette that paved the way for future generations of artists. David Smith, writing to the artist’s daughter and first owner of the present work, described González as, “the father of all iron sculpture of this century” (quoted in ibid., p. 12).
If the synthetic distortions of materials, color, and light, the perforations, the absence of material planes give the work a mysterious, diabolical and fantastic appearance, then the artist, in addition to idealizing a material which he endows with life, also works with space which will make it sacred”
Danseuse à la palette was truly novel for its time. Due to the technical skill needed to forge and weld metal, sculpting directly in this medium was almost impossible for artists without direct experience in these methods. As a result, even the most innovative of sculpture was predominantly carved or modeled, with metal used for casting rather than directly creating an art work. González, who had grown up in a family of metalsmiths, had an innate understanding of the art of shaping and joining metal. Thanks to his skills in metalwork he was able to construct his works from start to finish, without sending them to a foundry to cast.
Upon rekindling his friendship with Picasso in 1928, the pair began to collaborate together. Up until this point, González had not held any ambition to become a sculptor. Yet, working together in González’s studio, Picasso opened his fellow Spaniard’s eyes to the creative potential of this medium. Together they enjoyed a fertile creative dialogue: González provided Picasso the technical expertise; Picasso the creative impetus. Some of Picasso’s best-known sculptures, both his metal assemblages and radical linear constructions, including La femme au jardin, Tête de femme and Figures, emerged from this period of collaboration (Spies, nos. 72-1, 81 and 68-71).
Inspired by his work with Picasso, González began to create his own free-standing works. Beginning with masks and heads in the early 1930s, by 1934, he continued to reduce the compositions to their elemental parts, creating full-length figures in metal, of which the present work is a key example. Taking as his basis figures from art history—a woman combing her hair, a maternity scene, Daphne, and dancers—González transformed these motifs into strikingly contemporary, cubist-inspired constructions. This balance between figuration and abstraction, and a constructivist geometricism infused with a sense of organic lyricism, came to define his work. “González's sculptures,” Rowell has written, “are compelling because, by virtue of their visible process and technique (and thus the imminent presence of a human hand), they incarnate a precariousness of gesture and emotion. In the linear pieces of approximately 1934 the relationships between the different lengths and sections of metal wire or strips are irregular, nondescriptive and unexpected; yet somehow they express a gravity, a tension and an equilibrium that we identify with the postures of the human figure” (ibid., pp. 29-30).
The age of iron began many centuries ago, by producing (unhappily) arms – some very beautiful. Today it makes possible the building of bridges, railroads. It is high time that this metal cease to be a murderer and the simple instrument of an overly mechanical science. Today, the door is opened wide to this material to be at last! Forged and hammered by the peaceful hands of artists”
This sense of tension and equilibrium is perfectly demonstrated in the present work. González has constructed this assemblage in such a way that the dancing figure looks as if it is falling—or conversely taking flight—from the pedestal, its bronze elements appearing almost airborne, despite the weight of their constitution. The interplay between the rounded disc—the palette of the title—and the linear pieces further heightens the calligraphic lyricism that defines this sculpture. González said that he wanted to “draw in space” with his metal sculptures, integrating negative space as an active part of his compositions. With its inference of both artistic creativity and expressive movement, Danseuse à la palette sees González achieve this, creating a work of striking abstraction. “In traditional sculpture a leg is formed out of a single block,” González once stated, “but in sculpture using SPACE as MATERIAL, this same leg may be conceived of as SCOOPED OUT, designated by a single STROKE in a whole that likewise forms a single block. Traditional sculpture has a horror of holes and empty spaces. This new kind of sculpture uses them to their fullest potential, considering them an INDISPENSABLE material now” (“Notes on Sculpture,” in Picasso and the Age of Iron, exh. cat., Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 1993, p. 283).
Of the 7 casts of the present sculpture, 2 are in public institutions, including the Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna, Rome and the Musée national d'art moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris. The iron version is on permanent loan to the Städtische Kunsthalle, Mannheim.
Lot Essay Header Image: Julio González in his studio, circa 1936. Musée National d’Art Moderne, Photograph by Rogi André. Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris. Photo: Droits réservés, pas d’ayant-droit connu. © Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Georges Meguerditchian.