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Modern Icons: Property from an Important Private Collection

Acrobat [LF 209] (Unique Cast)

Acrobat [LF 209] (Unique Cast)
inscribed and dated 'G. Lachaise/©/1928' and 'R.B.W.' (along the base)
bronze with selectively applied nickel plate
17 3⁄4 in. (45.1 cm.) high on a 6 in. (15.2 cm.) marble base
Modeled circa 1924; cast by 1928.
The artist.
Morris R. Werner, New York, acquired from the above, 1929.
Peridot Gallery, New York, circa 1961.
Private collection, acquired from the above, circa 1961.
Sotheby's, New York, 3 December 2009, lot 52, sold by the above.
Acquired by the present owner from the above.
R. Cortissoz, "Review of the Exhibition of Sculpture by Lachaise at the Brummer Gallery, New York," New York Herald Tribune, March 4, 1928, section VII, p. 11.
W.B. McCormick, “Lachaise’s Sculpture is Brilliant,” New York American, March 4, 1928, section M, p. 9.
G. Seldes, "Lachaise: Sculptor of Repose," New Republic, vol. 54, no. 696, April 4, 1928, p. 219.
D. Haskell, "Notes of the Month," Creative Art, vol. 4, no. 5, May 1929, p. X, illustrated.
D.B. Goodall, Gaston Lachaise, Sculptor, Ph.D. dissertation, Harvard University, 1969, vol. 1, pp. 397, 494, 495-6, 553n. 122 (a); vol. 2, pp. 478, 241042, pl. CXI, illustrated (as Woman, Acrobat).
G. Nordland, Gaston Lachaise: The Man and His Work, New York, 1974, pp. 135-37, illustrated.
New York, Brummer Gallery, Lachaise, February 28-March 24, 1928, no. 3, 7, or 12.
New York, Museum of Modern Art, Gaston Lachaise: Retrospective Exhibition, January-March 1935, p. 26, no. 38, illustrated.

Brought to you by

Tylee Abbott
Tylee Abbott Vice President, Head of American Art

Lot Essay

The present work is the only known cast of Gaston Lachaise's Acrobat. Lachaise’s records indicate that he began to create Acrobat in about 1924; that in June 1928 the “first” bronze cast was in his studio, and the model from which it was made was then at the Roman Bronze Works foundry; and that a cast—evidently the same bronze—was sold by Lachaise on February 11, 1929, directly to M. R. (Morrie) Werner, his neighbor, friend and patron, as well as recent biographer of showman P. T. Barnum of Barnum & Bailey Circus. Evidently made in either January or February 1928, the present work can be traced back to Werner and is the only example known today. As part of the finishing process, nickel-plate, an industrial technique occasionally used by Lachaise since at least 1924, was selectively applied to its surface to describe a tight-fitting garment, leaving the exposed bronze to evoke the performer’s bare skin.

Lachaise's profound love of the circus dates from 1889, when, as a young boy in Paris, he was taken to see Buffalo Bill's spectacular Wild West show, and it remained an abiding source of inspiration throughout his life. Acrobat, which represents a woman who supports her body above a single hand, reflects Lachaise’s deep admiration of athletic skill and vigor. It is one of three statuettes of Acrobats that appeared in Lachaise’s third solo exhibition, held at Joseph Brummer's prestigious New York gallery in early 1928, and is partly visible in the background of one of Paul Strand's photographs of the installation. The noted critic Gilbert Seldes, while reviewing the show, noted that this particular work depicts "a woman caught in the dramatic moment of the cartwheel…when it is still uncertain whether the movement will be completed in the intended direction, or fall back. The entire body is under strain…But the strain is miraculously eased by…the free hand, held aloft to balance the body, and the whole work has—as a piece of sculpture—an extraordinary quiet." ("Lachaise, Sculptor of Repose," New Republic, vol. 54, no. 696, April 4, 1928, p. 219).

In 1934, Lachaise used the plaster model for Acrobat, or a plaster cast made from it, to create a nearly abstract, entirely nickel-plated sculpture (Woman; now unlocated). Lachaise explicitly compared the earlier and later works when exhibiting them in his 1935 Museum of Modern Art retrospective, so as to draw the viewer’s attention to his imaginative, playful development of one witty sculpture to become another. Although the model used to make the present bronze is lost, fragments of a negative plaster mold made by him from either the model or the bronze are now owned by the Lachaise Foundation, New York, which oversees his estate.

We are grateful to Virginia Budny, author of the forthcoming catalogue raisonné sponsored by the Lachaise Foundation, for preparing the catalogue entry for this work.

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