Francisco Narváez (Venezuelan 1905-1982)
Francisco Narváez (Venezuelan 1905-1982)

La bañista

Francisco Narváez (Venezuelan 1905-1982)
La bañista
inscribed and numbered 'N. 4/8' (near the base)
bronze with dark brown patina
41 7/8 x 14½ x 13 5/8 in. (106.4 x 37 x 34.6 cm.)
Executed in 1970.
Edition four of eight.
Acquired from the artist.
Private collection, Miami.
Acquired from the above by the present owner.

Lot Essay

This work is sold with a certificate of authenticity from the Fundación Francisco Narváez dated 15 November 2007.

Venezuela's most important sculptor by popular acclamation, Francisco Narváez inaugurated his country's age of modernism at the start of the 1930s, returning from three years in Paris and instantly catalyzing the national culture. The son of a well-known cabinetmaker in Porlamar, Narváez practiced woodcarving at an early age before beginning his formal training at the Academia de Bellas Artes in Caracas in 1922. At that time, Venezuelan sculpture was still mired in a dated academicism, its dominant technique wax or clay modeling and its narrative subjects mostly catered to the statuary demands of the state. Within such a "sleepy and incurious environment," a critic for the magazine Elite wrote on the occasion of the artist's first solo exhibition, Narváez's aptitude boded well for the renewal of Venezuela's sculptural tradition: "The artist and the medium are evolving almost simultaneously, the stimulus of one synchronizing with the other."(1)

Narváez more than fulfilled his early promise over the course of a long and prolific career, during which his sculpture evolved along a cohesive trajectory from figurative representation through progressive modes of abstraction. He settled permanently in Caracas in 1931, opening a studio in the working-class neighborhood of Catia that immediately became a gathering place for Venezuela's avant-garde. Stimulated by the growing national sentiment shared by this young intelligentsia, he began to work out the problems of figurative, volumetric sculpture in works that took the country's indigenous mestizo population and vernacular themes in general as their subjects. The artist's principal criollista period lasted through the mid-1940s, yielding in later years to myriad experiments in abstraction, but Narváez remained committed to his nativist interests over subsequent decades, even adapting his strong woodcarving technique to the medium of bronze, as in the present bañista

The languid, voluptuous body of La bañista draws on imagery from the artist's classic criollista period, its sinuous curves emerging as a pure volume in space, harmonious and gracefully balanced. "The Creole women, blacks, and Indian women that populate these works are men and women engaged in their daily routine," Katherine Chacón has observed of Narváez's corpus, "but they are also compact masses, concatenations of curves and volumes, and smoothly shifting light reflected on polished surfaces. They become pretexts for volumes of stylized elegance, signaling a break with the narrative character of previous sculpture in favor of expressive form and matter. He uses minimal resources, saving details to achieve a notable synthesis in forms that represent their essential features."(2) An archetypal image of a bather, La bañista carries expressive gravitas, the womanly outline of her figure creating a sensuous visual rhythm: the tilt of her head is supported by her sideways plait, whose curving shape is again echoed in the bent contours of her arm and opposite leg. Monumental and timeless, the bather embodies the purity of forms and supreme plasticity that best distinguished Narváez's sculpture, her distilled volumes and simple eloquence a moving tribute to the artist's most venerated mestizo subjects.

1) Quoted in R. Piñeda, Narváez: La escultura hasta Narváez, Caracas, Ernesto Armitano, 1980, 139.
2) K. Chacón, "Francisco Narvez: Sculpture in Venezuela," Art Nexus, no. 62, October-December 2006, 91.

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