Gordon Adams - European Sculpture in the 20th Century


Galleries: Stone

From Classical Greek to the 20th.C

Modernist sculpture in the 20th.C

Contemporary sculpture, and the future?

European Sculpture in the 20th.C

Modernist sculpture movements include: Cubism, Geometric abstraction, Contructionist, Dada, Surrealism, Futurism, Pop-art, Minimilism, Land art, and Installation art among others...
Many of these "movements" are just tags created by art "academics" for their own convenience in pidgeon-holing. I think its best to concentrate on the sculptors themselves and leave "isms" to the writers. This brief guide looks at the most significant European sculptors of the 20th.C

Constantin Brancusi    1876 - 1957
Romanian, he grew up in a village in the Carpathian mountains, where from age 7 he herded the family's flock of sheep, and developed a talent for carving wooden farm tools. He ran away from home to escape the bullying of his father, and worked as a domestic in a public house in Craiova. When he was 18, he made a violin from materials he found around his workplace. This led to him enrolling in the Craiova School of Arts and Crafts, where he pursued his love for woodworking. After that he enrolled in the Bucharest School of Fine Arts and trained in sculpture.
In 1903 he travelled to Munich then to Paris and worked for two years in the workshop of sculptor Antonin Mercie. He was invited to work in Rodin's workshop but left after 2 months saying "nothing can grow under big trees".
After this he began developing the abstracted, simplified style for which he is known. He also switched to direct carving, rather than modeling in clay which was the method popular with his contemporaries.
His circle of friends in Paris included many artists and intellectuals, and he was fond of living it up, but at home he continued to dress and live like a Romanian peasant.

  Constantin Brancusi - Flying Bird, and Princess X
Jacob Epstein    1880 - 1959
Born in New York, the third of five children, his parents were middle class Polish Jewish refugees. His interest in art started in childhood during long periods of illness. He studied art in New York as a teenager and joined the Art Students League in 1900. He worked in a bronze foundry by day while studying sculpture in the evenings.
He emigrated to Paris in 1902 and studied the Académie Julian and the École des Beaux-Arts. He moved to London in 1905, got married and became a British citizen. Although he remained married Epstein had a number of relationships with other women that brought him five children. His wife tolerated his affairs and allowed his models and lovers to live in the family home, except for one, who she shot in the shoulder. Yay.
He was commissioned to create sculpture for some of London's most prominent places, but much of his work appalled and disgusted the general public, especially his male nudes which were often "vandalised" with a Bobbit. On one sculpture, "Day", Epstein was forced to reduce the size of the penis after protests from the public. [strange reaction, because the boy's appendage seems to come out of his butt...]
His art was highly original for its time, and had a significant influence on the younger generation of sculptors such as Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth.

  Jacob Epstein - Rock Drill, Adam
Pablo Picasso    1881 - 1973
Spanish, born in Malaga the first child of a middle-class catholic family. His father was a professor of art at the School of Crafts, and specialized in naturalistic paintings of birds. From the age of 7, Picasso received training in drawing and painting from his father, including copying the masters, and figure drawing from plaster casts and live models. In 1895 his family moved to Barcelona, and Pablo regarded the city as his true home. His father arranged for him to take an entrance exam and he was admitted to the School of Fine Arts. Next, his father sent the young artist to Madrid's Royal Academy at age 16. Pablo disliked formal instruction and stopped attending classes soon after enrollment. In 1900 he went to Paris, the art capital of Europe. There, he met poet Max Jacob, who helped Picasso learn the language.
His work went through several distinct styles known as the Blue, Rose, African, Cubist and Crystal periods. In 1907 Matisse introduced him to African sculpture, and the masks had a huge influence on his subsequent work.

Picasso was one of the most innovative artists ever, but he was essentially a painter, and had no training as a sculptor - "he approached sculpting with the freedom of a self-taught artist". His contribution to the evolution of sculpture was that he removed many traditional restraints on style, subject matter, methods and materials - he co-founded the Cubism, and invented "Constructed" sculpture.

  Pablo Picasso - Head of a Warrior, and Chicago Horse
Frank Dobson    1886 - 1963
English, born in London, his father was a commercial artist who specialized in bird and flower designs for greeting cards. When his father died the 14 year old Dobson was sent to live with an aunt in Hastings. There he attended evening classes at the Hastings School of Art, then trained as an apprentice with sculptor William Reynolds-Stephens for 18 months. He then moved to Cornwall where he lived by selling paintings. In 1906 he won a scholarship to the Hospitalfield Art Institute in Scotland and studied there for four years. From 1910 to 1912 he attended the City & Guilds of London Art School, after which he returned to Cornwall. In Newlyn, he met Augustus John who used his influence to enable Dobson to stage a one-man show in London in 1914.

After WWI he switched from painting to sculpture, in a more or less realist style. In the 1920s and 1930s he built a reputation as a sculptor and took to direct carving rather than clay modelling which was the norm. The monumental dignity of his work was in the tradition of Maillol, and like him Dobson found the female nude the most satisfactory subject for 3-dimensional composition. The simplified forms and flowing lines of his sculptures showed the influence of African art. In 1946 he became a Professor of Sculpture at the Royal College of Art. He was elected to the Royal Academy in 1953.
Dobson was one of the most esteemed artists of his time, but after his death his popularity declined with the move towards postmodernism and conceptual art. In recent years there has been a revival of interest, and he is now seen as one of the most important British sculptors of the 20th century.

  Frank Dobson - Stone sculpture
Jean/Hans Arp    1886 - 1966
German-French, born in Strasbourg, the son of a French mother and a German father. The area of Alsace-Lorraine went from being french to german, then back to french, consequently Arp had both french and german names.
(I once thought there were 2 brothers...)
He went to École des Arts in Strasbourg then studied at Kunstschule in Weimar, then in 1908 went to the Académie Julian in Paris. In 1912, he went to Munich where he met and was encouraged by Wassily Kandinsky. He exhibited with the Der Blaue Reiter group, and took part in an exhibition in Zürich, along with Kandinsky and Matisse. In 1915, he avoided being drafted into the German Army and moved to Switzerland to take advantage Swiss neutrality. He was a founding member of the Dada movement in Zürich in 1916. In 1920, along with Max Ernst, he set up the Cologne Dada group. In 1925, his work also appeared in the first exhibition of the Surrealist group in Paris. In 1931 he broke with the Surrealist movement to found the Abstraction-Création in Paris.
In the 1930s, he switched from painting and collage to sculpture, in bronze and stone. He sought a concrete art: sculptures which identify themselves with natural forms, without description. From 1954 onwards he received many international awards for his sculpture.

  Jean Arp - Torse, and Demeter
Alexander Archipenko    1887 - 1964
Ukranian, born in Kiev, the younger brother of Eugene Archipenko. From 1902-05 he attended the Kiev Art School. In 1906 he had an exhibition with Bogomazov in Kiev. Later that year he moved to Moscow and exhibited his work in various group shows. He moved to Paris in 1908 and was a resident in the artist's colony La Ruche. In 1910 he exhibitied at Salon des Indépendants with Picasso and Braque, the first public showing of Cubism in Paris. In 1912 he had his first solo exhibition in Folkwang, Germany. From 1912 to 1914 he was teaching at his own Art School in Paris. Four of his Cubist sculptures appeared in the controversial Armory Show in 1913 in New York. In 1921 he started his own Art school in Berlin, then the following year he participated in the First Russian Art Exhibition in Berlin. In 1923 he emigrated to America and participated in an exhibition of Russian Sculpture. He became a US citizen in 1929. In 1933 he exhibited at the Ukrainian pavilion in Chicago where his works were valued at $25,000. In 1936 he participated in an exhibition of Cubism and Abstract Art in New York. He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1962.
Archipenko was the first, after Picasso, to use the Cubist style in sculpture. He used faceted planes and negative space to create a new way of looking at the human figure, showing a number of views of the subject simultaneously.

  Alexander Archipenko - The Hero, and Woman combing her hair
Henri Gaudier-Brzeska    1891 - 1915
French, born in Orleans as Henri Gaudier, the son of a carpenter. In 1911 he moved to London with polish writer Sophie Brzeska whom he had met in Paris when he was 20 and she was 38. They double-barrelled their names, although they never married. They both suffered from mental health issues and rarely had sex - Sophie would buy Henri prostitutes for his enjoyment instead of having relations with him.
He initially studied business before the move to London to become an artist, and had no formal artistic training. He was influenced by Rodin's figurative style and knew very little about contemporary sculpture. By the autumn of 1913 his friendships with Ezra Pound and Jacob Epstein pointed him in the direction of abstraction and a greater bareness and geometrical simplification. Epstein's carvings encouraged Gaudier to draw upon the art of non-Western cultures on view at the British Museum. Pound supported the impoverished Gaudier-Brzeska by purchasing carvings and he presented him with a block of marble for a specially commissioned portrait.
His works such as Red Stone Dancer and Seated Woman showed a remarkable talent and a fresh approach, but, it was short lived because in 1915 he enlisted with the French army and was killed in the trenches. What a waste.

  Henri Gaudier-Brzeska - Red Stone Dancer, and Seated Woman
Henry Moore    1898 - 1988
English, born in Castleford, the son of a coal miner, 7th of eight children. Henry went to Castleford Grammar School, where his art teacher broadened his knowledge of art. At 18 he joined the army, and was injured in a gas attack in France in 1917. After the war he received an ex-serviceman's grant to continue his education and in 1919 he started at the Leeds School of Art.
Barbara Hepworth was a fellow student and they began a friendship and rivalry that lasted for many years. In 1921, Moore and Hepworth both won scholarships to the Royal College of Art. In London, Moore became interested in primitive sculpture, and studied the ethnic collections at the British Museum. This and the influence of sculptors such as Brancusi, Epstein, Gaudier-Brzeska and Dobson led him to the method of direct carving. This put him in conflict with his tutors who wanted him to model in plaster, then reproduce in marble using a pointing machine.
In 1924, he won a 6-month travelling scholarship which he spent in Italy studying Michelangelo and other Old Masters. He visited Paris, and viewed a plaster cast of a Maya sculpture "Chac Mool" - this had a profound effect on him and the "reclining figure" became a recurring motif in his sculpture.
For the next 6 years he held a part-time teaching post at the RCA, this allowed him time to spend on his own work. In 1928 he got his first public commission, "West Wind", which was one of the 8 reliefs on the walls of London Underground's headquarters. He married Irina Radetsky, a Ukrainian student at the RCA and they moved to Hampstead and became part of the colony of avant-garde artists (Barbara Hepworth moved into a studio around the corner). In 1932 he became Head of Sculpture at the Chelsea School of Art. Artistically, Moore and the other members of The 7&5 Society began to develop more abstract work, influenced by trips to Paris and contact with Picasso, Braque, Arp and Giacometti. At the outbreak of WWII he became a war artist, producing drawings of Londoners sheltering from the Blitz. When their Hampstead home was bombed in 1940, Moore and Irina moved to Hoglands - a farmhouse in the village of Perry Green, Hertfordshire. This was to become Moore's home and workshop for the rest of his life. After the birth of his daughter in 1946 Moore's main theme became the "mother-and-child". In the 1950s, he began to get more commissions for public works of art, and as the scale of his sculptures grew significantly, he started to employ assistants to work with him at Hoglands.
As his wealth grew, Moore established the Henry Moore Foundation as a registered charity to encourage public appreciation of his art.

  Henry Moore - Reclining figure, Mother and Child, King and Queen
Alberto Giacometti    1901 - 1966
Swiss, born in Borgonova, the son of a well known post impressionist painter, he had 2 brothers who also became artists. He moved to Geneva to attend the School of Fine Arts. In 1922 he moved to Paris to study under the sculptor Bourdelle. It was there that he experimented with cubism then surrealism, and came to be regarded as one of the leading surrealist sculptors.
Between 1936 and 1940 he concentrated on sculpting the human head, focusing on the model's gaze. This was followed by a phase in which his sculptures of his sister Isabel became stretched, with elongated limbs. After his marriage in 1946 his tiny sculptures became larger, but the larger they grew, the thinner they became, with rough, eroded, heavily worked surfaces. He mostly concentrated on the themes of the walking man, the standing nude, and the bust.
In 1962 he was awarded the grand prize for sculpture at the Venice Biennale, and the award brought with it worldwide fame. In his later years Giacometti's works were shown in a number of large exhibitions throughout Europe and in New York.

  Alberto Giacometti - Eli Lottar, and Walking man
Barbara Hepworth    1903 - 1975
English, born in Wakefield, the eldest child in an upwardly mobile family. She won a scholarship to the Leeds School of Art and studied there from 1920. There she became friends with fellow student, Henry Moore, and they started a friendly professional rivalry that lasted for many years. Hepworth was the first to sculpt the pierced figures that are characteristic of works by both.
She then won a scholarship to the Royal College of Art and studied there from 1921 to 1924. After that she was awarded a scholarship for one year's travel abroad and went to Florence to study Renaissance art. She met and married sculptor John Skeaping who was studying sculpture in Rome. Hepworth learned to carve marble from master-carver Giovanni Ardini. In 1931 she went on a holiday in Norfolk with Skeaping, Ben Nicholson, Henry and Irina Moore and Ivon Hitchens. Later, she divorced from Skeaping and married Nicholson. Hepworth's first holed sculpture, "Pierced Form", was carved around 1932. In 1933 she went to Paris and met Brancusi and Picasso, and the following year she met Braque at Varengeville. Hepworth became involved with the Paris-based art movement, Abstraction-Création, and co-founded the Unit One art movement which sought to unite Surrealism and abstraction in British art.
St Ives had become a refuge for many artists during the war and in 1949 Hepworth and Nicholson moved there and aquired a studio - she lived there until her death in 1975, when the studio caught fire.
Hepworth's international standing was recognised with honorary degrees, the CBE (1958) and the DBE (1965).

  Barbara Hepworth - Oval sculpture, Figure for Landscape, Mother and Child

It's interesting to see how many painters switched to sculpture later in life. For some it was an epiphany, but, some had made their reputation in painting, then shamelessly cashed in on that, or their heirs did... So, there's a few famous names missing from this rough guide because they can't really be considered "sculptors" at all...

Matisse is quoted as saying "I sculpted as a painter, I did not sculpt like a sculptor. Sculpture does not say what painting says". He described his sculpture as "a rest from painting". That didnt stop him casting his 82 sculptural works in editions of 10. Ker-ching.
Degas created only one piece that was for public view, the rest were private 3-D sketches. After he died his heirs decided to make bronze casts of his plasticine and clay pieces. They did 20 casts of each, all stamped "Degas". Ker-ching.
Renoir was in his 70's with hands deformed by athritus when he decided to try sculpture. He told his friend, Vollard, "I'm looking for a pair of hands". Vollard arranged for a young unknown sculptor Richard Guino to become Renoir's "ghost". Many famous sculptors, including Rodin, had "assistants" to scale up clay maquettes into full-sized stone sculptures, but in this case Guino did 100% of the sculpting, based on Renoir's paintings. His art dealer friend sold the pieces branded as "Renoir", ker-ching, and Guino was airbrushed from art history. What a fraud. Guino's heirs took Renoir's heirs to court and after a 40 years battle the french courts decided the sculptures had to be re-classified as Renoir/Guino.

Michelangelo and Bernini would roll over in their graves...

More Good Sculptors....

To keep it brief the above section only mentions certain key sculptors, but there are many more well worth a look at.
Here is a selection of the famous and not-so-famous.

Maurice Lambert
- Father and Child

  Maurice Lambert - Father and Child

Bruno Giorgi
- Mulher a sol

  Bruno Giorgi - Mulher a sol

Elizabeth Frink
- Running Men

  Elizabeth Frink - Running Men

Unberto Boccioni
- Unique-forms-in-continuity-and-space

  Unberto Boccioni - Unique-forms-in-continuity-and-space

Naum Gabo
- Constructed Head

  Naum Gabo - Constructed Head

Eric Gill
- The East Wind

  Eric Gill - The East Wind

Georg Kolbe
- Kauernde

  Georg Kolbe - Kauernde

Gerhard Marcks
- Prometheus

  Gerhard Marcks - Prometheus

Wilhelm Lehmbruck
- Mother and Child

  Wilhelm Lehmbruck - Mother and Child

Marino Marini
- Angel of the city

  Marino Marini - Angel of the city

Alberto Viani
- Woman torso

  Alberto Viani - Woman torso

Alfredo Ceschiatti
- Reclining figure

  Alfredo Ceschiatti - Reclining figure

Raymond Duchamp-Villon
- Seated woman

  Raymond Duchamp-Villon - Seated woman

Henri Laurens
- The Autumn

  Henri Laurens - The Autumn

Amedeo Modigliani
- Head

  Amedeo Modigliani - Head

European Sculpture in the 20th Century © Gordon Adams.