"Man, plant, crystal, shell, starfish, vessel, tripod, symbol, cloud, star, landscape--all come alive in Jean Arp's sculpture" (C. Giedion-Welcker, Jean Arp, Stuttgart, 1957, p. XIV).
The present sculpture takes as its subject the natural world, a thematic touchstone throughout Arp's oeuvre. Made in the last decade of the artist's life, it is an example of the culmination of Arp's creative genius. In his last years, Arp lived and worked in the Ticino, in southern Switzerland, a place where stone was present everywhere, in the landscape and architecture wherever one turned. This symbiotic harmony appealed to the artist. His biographer Herbert Read recalls: "Arp had always liked to see his sculpture in a natural setting. Towards the end of his life, in his garden in the Ticino, he carved large slabs of stone into circular shapes like millstones, pierced with his characteristic motives. Arp loved this stone country, where his worked merged insensibly into the natural background. There the organic growth of his work came into final fruition" (H. Read, The Art of Jean Arp, New York, 1968, p. 102).
Following a strong tradition of thirty years of producing sculpture in the round, Feuille sur cristal embodies Arp's distinctive transformation of organic form into abstract lyrical shapes. The juxtaposition of a crystalline geometric formation with the organically flowing leaf transfigures imagery of natural growth into an abstract beauty. Meant to be viewed in the round, the bronze surface and soaring trajectory create a sense of generative dynamism like many other works from this period, such as Bud, 1957 (The Israel Museum, Jerusalem).
The present work is intrinsically related to Arp's important early sculptural works of the 1930s such as Growth, 1938 (The Art Institute of Chicago). Like the present sculpture, these early works similarly took as their subject--growth, metamorphoses and botanical fertility--often while using a similar admixture of geometric and rounded soaring shapes. There are clearly formal parallels in this work, and throughout Arp's practice, to the work of Constantin Brancusi, particularly Bird in Space, 1932-1940 (The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, New York) and Endless Column, 1918 (The Museum of Modern Art, New York). However, as Margherita Andreotti has pointed out, Arp transformed the lessons of Brancusi into his own vision of the natural world: "The angular, crystalline forms of Brancusi's Endless Column, however, have been translated into the fluid curves of Arp's personal idiom" ("New Unity of Man and Nature, Jean Arp's Growth of 1938," The Art Institute of Chicago Museum Studies, vol. 16, no. 2, 1990, p. 138).
Arp's distinctive vocabulary of biomorphic forms proved to be widely influential and has become part of the modernist idiom of abstraction. Andreotti has written: "That the organic sculptural form which Arp arrived at in the early 1930s provided an ample vehicle for expression is demonstrated, moreover, by the readiness with which it was adopted by other sculptors and has become part of the standard formal repertoire available to modern artists. Moore, Hepworth, and Noguchi are just a few of the better known sculptors to develop this organic vocabulary in their own unique ways" (The Early Sculpture of Jean Arp, 1989, pp. 253-254). And certainly, Arp's inventive forms have become part of the modernist idiom of abstraction.
Feuille sur cristal is a classic example of the culmination of Arp's creative force. "His genius gave the world a new family of forms that parallels, comments on and competes successfully with nature. All this Arp achieved within the new syntax of twentieth century art. His respect for the natural and his profound understanding of the modernist tradition were never in conflict. His triumph was to affect a new synthesis of the familiar and the invented" (Jean Arp from the Collections of Mme Marguerite Arp and Arthur and Madeleine Lejwa, exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1972, n.p.).