Max Weber was one of the first American artists to demonstrate a thoroughly developed cubist vocabulary in his work. Modeled in 1915, 'Figure in Rotation' is a seminal sculpture from the most prolific and successful decade of the artist's career. This rare bronze strongly relates to Weber's paintings of the period in which he explored the expression of movement on a static surface, producing dynamic compositions through the portrayal of multiple moments and perspectives in a single composition. The present work triumphantly translates this exploration to the sculpture medium as Weber manipulates and distorts the female figure to create a sense of perpetual motion, one that varies depending upon the angle from which she is viewed.
'Figure in Rotation' exhibits the strong influence of primitive art on Weber's work from the 1910s. Many Cubist artists, most notably Picasso, were also drawn to the formidable lines and mystique of primitive art. During his student days in Paris from 1905 to 1908, Weber became familiar with Picasso's use of African sculpture, "The results which Picasso achieved under the influence of African sculpture were even more shocking to the academic circles in Paris than the work of the Fauves, but Weber and other artists who had been concerned with problems similar to those upon which Picasso was working at once hailed this new work as a significant step in the research of modern art." (L. Goodrich, Max Weber, New York, 1930, p. 18) Weber continued to explore aspects of primitive art and the tenets of Picasso's Cubism throughout the 1910s, developing his own unique and thoroughly modern aesthetic.
Lloyd Goodrich wrote of Weber's work from the 1910s, "His love of primitive art showed in the sculptural massiveness of his figures, their contorted forms, and their unnaturalistic proportions, as in their big heads and eyes, the latter often shown full-faced with the head in profile." (L. Goodrich, Max Weber, New York, 1930, p. 22) Indeed, the large eyes, powerful angular elements and weighty, stylized forms of 'Figure in Rotation' recall those in Meso-American totems as well as African masks and sculpture. John M. Marter writes of the relation of the present sculpture to Picasso's work, "The head of 'Figure in Rotation' is turned beyond the normal axial position in relation to the shoulders. Weber combined profile and frontal views of the same nude, similar to the way Pablo Picasso presented some of his figures. The enlarged eyes and elongated nose are analogous to Picasso's stylized heads of 1907-8." (American Sculpture in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, vol. 2, New York, 2001, p. 656)
The movement towards modernism in America was taking shape in the 1910s following the watershed Armory Show of 1913. The sophistication of works such as 'Figure in Rotation' put Weber at the forefront of the avant-garde movement, distinguishing him from many of his contemporaries and making him one of the most important and influential artists of his day.
'Figure in Rotation' was modeled by the artist in plaster in 1915. It was not until the 1950s when Max Weber began to cast his works in bronze, that this work was cast. This is the only known artist's proof of the work, of which three additional lifetime casts were made. Two of these casts are in the collections of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. The third has not presently been located.
We would like to thank Mr. Robert Fishko for his assistance cataloguing this lot.