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Ossip Zadkine

Sculpture, Cubism, Expressionnism, Montparnasse

(Vitebsk, Biélorussie, 1890 - Paris, 1967)

Ossip Zadkine was born on the 4th of July, 1890 in Vitebsk, now Belarus. His father, Ephime Zadkine, taught Greek and Latin at the seminary in Smolensk and his mother, Sophie Lester, came from a Scottish family of boat builders, who had emigrated to Russia in the seventeenth century.

In 1905, his parents sent him to Sunderland, northeast England, with a certain "Uncle John" who inscribed the young Zadkine to the local art school and introduced him to woodcarving. In 1906, the teenager joined a friend in London without the consent of his father, who had cut his fundings. He joined an evening class at the Regent Street Polytechnic and spent every sunday at the British Museum. He was also hired by a wood furniture craftsmen where he was given ornaments to shape in wood.

With he was learning this craft, he made his first sculptures with the technique of direct carving, such as Tête héroïque en granit, 1908, that he carved during a summer stay in Russia. His father, recognizing his talent, took the decision to send him to Paris in 1910, where Zadkine joined the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. After six months, he left school. He discovered the ancient and medieval sculptures in the Louvre and decided to "seek life in simplifying or highlighting" shapes. Like other sculptors of his generation - Amadeo Modigliani, Alexander Archipenko, Henri Gaudier-Brzeska - Zadkine went back to the living sources of the archaic, and promoted the technique of direct carving that he practiced fom 1911, an unfolded in his workshop called la Ruche.

In 1912, he moved to 114 rue de Vaugirard, closer to the Vavin crossroads and of the coffeeshop 'La Rotonde', where he met Matisse, Picasso, Modigliani and Apollinaire. At the 1913 Salon d'Automne, he met his first collector, Paul Rodocanachi, acquiring several works including those of Samson and Delilah and The Holy Family, and gave it a new wider and sunny studio at 35 rue Rousselet.

On 24 January 1916, Zadkine signed a voluntary commitment to join the war. Incorporated in the First Foreign Regiment, he served in a nursing section. In May, he was assigned to the Russian Ambulance in Champagne: barracks, trenches, evacuation of wounded, disabled, hospital rooms became familiar to him. Gassed at the end of November, Zadkine was evacuated and hospitalized in turn. Reformed in October 1917, he found the Rousselet street with an overturned health and morale. He reported forty works on paper, all executed in the emergency room - pencil, charcoal, ink and some watercolor. The expressiveness of these designs inspired him to publish an album under the title Vingt eaux-fortes de guerre par Ossip Zadkine, soldat au 1er régiment étranger affecté à l’Ambulance russe aux armées françaises.

His painter friend, Henry Ramey, invited him to spend the summer near Montauban, in the medieval village of Bruniquel Zadkine where he found himself in deep harmony. In October 1918, he exhibited with the Ramey in the Chappe Lautier Gallery of Toulouse where he made fifty-seven works on paper and four direct sculptures.

In 1919, Valentine Prax, a young woman painter, became his neighbor. Both shared the experiences of exile and the bitter pleasures of bohemian life. They married in August 1920 in Bruniquel. Two months earlier, Zadkine had organized his first exhibition in his studio: showing forty-nine sculptures carved in wood, stone or marble. In the preface to the catalog, Georges Duthuit emphasized the simplicity of this creation.

In February 1921, Zadkine exhibited at the gallery La Licorne that the Dr. Girardin had just opened. That same year, he was naturalized as a French and saw some of his sculptures acquired by the museum of Grenoble's : Tigre in gilded wood and Tête de jeune fille in marble. The sculptures produced between 1921 and 1924 by Zadkine testify to the transformation of his style, the artist made more clear-cutting plans, sharpened his edges, submitting volumes to the rigor of geometry. The Femme à l’éventail that he exhibited at the Salon d'Automne in 1923, and the series of l’Accordéoniste are the clearest representatives of the "little stiff and angular cubist world" that the sculptor soon left to return to himself. In 1925 the Barbazanges Gallery, devoted a major exhibition of his work.

He then started profond changes in his work. Without giving up direct carving, Zadkine created plaster and clay models, then cast them in bronze. He realized many sculptures this way such as Les Ménades, Naissance de Venus, Figure drapée, Orphées marchant, Diane. His trip to Greece (1931) confirmed this return "to clear sources of religious and aesthetic philosophies" of the ancient plastic.

From 1928, Zadkine left the studio in the rue Rousselet for the workshop in the rue d'Assas. His reputation was confirmed by multiple personal exhibitions in London (1928), the Venice Biennale (1932), the Palace of Fine Arts in Brussels or New York (1933). Nevertheless, under the impact of the economic crisis, collectors started to disapear. Loyal to Quercy, Ossip Zadkine and Valentine Prax settled in the village of Arques, in a large dilapidated house with a barn in 1934. This was a land which Zadkine had to leave after the defeat of France and the power take-over of the Nazis. At the end of May 1941, with the help of Valentine Prax, who remained in France to defend their property, he obtained a visa to the United States.

Zadkine embarked in Lisbon on June 20, 1941, on the Excalibur, the last American ship to leave Europe. In New York, he rented a studio in Greenwich Village. In October 1941, Zadkine exhibited at the Wildenstein Gallery, mainly exhibiting gouaches. In March 1942, the Pierre Matisse Gallery invited him to participate in the Artists in Exile exhibition along with Léger, Chagall and Lipchitz.

Zadkine also led a teaching activity, especially at the Art Students League. Reading the book of Mario Meunier, La légende dorée des dieux et des héros, inspired a series of drawings on the labours of Hercules - the heroic fights are topical and pass through the plastic and poetic symbolism of La Prisonnière (1943) or the Phoenix (1944), two outstanding sculptures of this period. On the 5th of September 1945, Zadkine obtained his visa and on the 28th he landed at Le Havre. In 1946, he was nominated as director of the sculpture class at the Academy of the Grande Chaumiere, located in Montparnasse, Rue de la Grande Chaumiere. His lesson there were very successful, and he taught there until 1958.

The memory of the cities shattered by war - Le Havre, Rotterdam – dictated to him the project called La ville détruite, later acquired by the municipality of Rotterdam in 1950. The same year, Zadkine received the grand prize for sculpture at the Venice Biennale and participated in the exhibition L’Art sacré, œuvres françaises des XIXe et XXe siècles au Musée national d’art moderne. The first work on wood that he would cut upon his return with "an intense and intimate joy" is a Christ, and was acquired by the state in 1952. He continued to teach in his Paris workshop as well as the Académie de la Grande Chaumiere. International recognition was reflected by his exhibitions at the Palace of Fine Arts in Brussels (1948), the Boymans Museum in Rotterdam (1949), and the gallery Fujikawa in Japan (1954).

Zadkine is now one of the big names of the art of sculpture of the twentieth century - the Wallraf-Richartz Museum in Cologne (1960), the Tate Gallery in London (1961), the Kunsthaus Zurich (1965) devoted major retrospectives for his work. Despite his bad health, he mobilized his forces for projects, works of monumental achievements, such as La Forêt humaine (1960-1962) before the high seat of the Van Leer Foundation in Jerusalem, or La Demeure (1963-1964) for the Nederlandsche Bank in Amsterdam.

He started in 1962 to write his memoirs, published under the title Le maillet et le ciseau, souvenirs de ma vie. Concerned about the fate of his work, he thought, with Prax, to open a museum in their workshop rue d’Assas, a luseum that Prax would create only after the death of Zadkine. The first catalog of his sculptures appeared in the monograph dedicated to him Ionel Jianou in 1964.

Around 1965, he opened up new paths for the mysterious "sculptures for architecture" that he dreamed to deploy into urban space. On november 8, 1967, he completed the bust of his friend, the writer Claude Aveline.

He died on the morning of the November 25. He is now buried in the Montparnasse cemetery. He is considered to be one of the greatest masters of Cubist sculpture. Zadkine's artistic production spans half a century and includes more than four hundred sculptures, thousands of drawings, watercolors and gouaches, prints, book illustrations and tapestries.

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