This work will be included in the forthcoming Catalogue Raisonné of sculpture by David Smith being prepared by The Estate of David Smith (www.davidsmithestate.org).
David Smith, known primarily as a sculptor, remained a draftsman throughout his life and created sculptures that were often seen or labeled as drawings in space. In masterpieces like Australia of 1951 or Timeless Clock of 1957 Smith used lengths of steel to create hollowed forms whose skeletal structure pierces the horizon and fuses with it's natural surroundings. Indeed it is this very relationship that is depicted in Four Figures. Smith revisited the idea of nature and the relation of the figure to its surroundings throughout his career, most often with a brush and ink on paper-- dragging the brush with the skill and thoughtfulness of a Chinese calligrapher, each mark made with clarity and purpose. Smith was able to move from one medium to the next, bringing to each the same virtuosity that is apparent when comparing his drawings of the mid-1950's to the Forging sculpture series of 1955-1956; the verisimilitude strikes immediately and is echoed within the Four Figures bronze cast that same year.
Four Figures shares a unique relationship to some of the greatest works of early European modernism. In 1913 Henri Matisse created his second of the Back bronze reliefs, a fragmented figure turned away from the viewer in bas relief. This was a revolutionary twist on the traditional bather figure and a vivid response to Cezanne and cubism. (M. Brenson, Matisse's Backs: Endless Beauty, The New York Times, August 20, 1989). Smith's work fragments and simplifies the figure to even more basic elements though both works share an existential presence as they feel at once to be dissolving as well as emerging from their respective surfaces. Like Alberto Giacommetti, Smith's figures are fully articulated but also feel to be melting at their edges- pointing ahead to Smith's less anthropomorphic Cubi sculptures of the 1960's whose sanded steel surfaces appear to dematerialize even further against the brilliance of the sun.
The present lot, patinated and hand-finished by the artist, was gifted to the legendary curator Sam Hunter by David Smith in May of 1957, and is inscribed as such on the reverse. It was in this year that that the Museum of Modern Art in New York held a major retrospective of the artist's work that was organized by Sam Hunter.