Frances Archipenko Gray has confirmed the authenticity of this work.
Archipenko had been lauded as the leading and most influential sculptor of the pre-war Paris avant-garde, creating a new unique modernist language, which would leave a lasting legacy on twentieth-century sculpture. Christa Lichenstern states, ‘The esteem in which Archipenko was held as sculptor, first in Germany and later in the United States, reinforces his position as a unique modernist phenomenon in the history of sculpture’ (Canto d’Amore, exh. cat., Kunstmuseum Basel, 1996, pp. 152).
Although Archipenko’s aesthetic changed throughout the years, altering from a Cubist aesthetic to a more Classical leaning, the artist never lost the power and potency in his work. This is reflected in the The Queen of Sheba. By choosing the character the Queen of Sheba, an important figure in all the Christian and Jewish, Arabian and Ethiopian traditions, Archipenko highlights the synthesis in his work between the imagery of the archaic, religious and modernist. What was important for Archipenko was ‘invention’, which he spent his lifetime in relentless pursuit of. Archipenko exclaimed two months before his death, ‘To invent! Does anything more important exist? In truth, I don't think so’ (quoted in Y. Taillandier, "Conversation avec Archipenko," XX Siècle, vol. 25, no. 22, Christmas 1963).
Closely allied with Paris's artistic vanguard, Archipenko was among the earliest sculptors to attempt a truly three-dimensional equivalent of Cubism, establishing an entirely new vocabulary for twentieth-century sculpture. Alfred H. Barr, Jr., the first director of The Museum of Modern Art, described Archipenko in 1936 as, ‘the first to work seriously and consistently at the problem of Cubist sculpture’ (Cubism and Modern Art, exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1936, p. 104). Influenced by the Cubist notion of integrating the figure with surrounding space, Archipenko embraced negative space as an active element of sculptural articulation, imbuing it with equal value. By introducing the void as a positive element in sculpture, he helped change the traditional concept of sculptural form in the early 20th century. Drawing a new equivalent between the dialectics of plane and shadow and the play of presence and absence implied by concave and convex shapes, Archipenko incorporated light into his sculpture, which is used to great effect in The Queen of Sheba. This was important in perceiving the human form as it added an element of dynamism to his work, which emphasised the effects of movement and life.
Colour and texture was also important to Archipenko, who, as seen in the present work, plays with the surface of the bronze, juxtaposing polishes planes with textured areas to allow the light to fall differently on them. This interest in colour and light was significant to the artist throughout his career.
'What remains imbued in Archipenko’s work and is seen in The Queen of Sheba is a timeless quality, which speaks of a spiritual truth. The search for a timeless representation of women brought the artist close to abstraction, not in terms of producing non-representational forms, but in the way he treated his subjects abstractly, as an enduring motif, a devotional object of some sort, shared by many cultures and civilisations’
(M. Bartelik, ‘Refashioning the Figure: The Sketchbooks of Archipenko c.1920’, Henry Moore Institute Essays on Sculpture no. 41, Leeds, 2003, n.p.).