Henri Laurens (1885-1954)
Henri Laurens (1885-1954)


Henri Laurens (1885-1954)
incised with monogram (on the top of the base)
painted wood and metal
Height: 7¾ in. (19.8 cm.)
Length: 11 in. (27.7 cm.)
Executed in 1917-1918; unique
Jacques Zoubaloff, Paris; sale, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, 28 November 1935, lot 200.
Jean Le Bec, Neuilly-sur-Seine.
Private collection, Neuilly-sur-Seine (by descent from the above); sale, Artcurial, Paris, 20 October 2007, lot 8.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
Paris, Musée national d'Art Moderne, Le cubisme, 1907-1914, January-April 1953 (dated 1919).
Kunsthaus Zurich, Henri Laurens. Skupturen, Collagen, Zeichnungen, July-August 1961, no. 65 (dated 1919).
Paris, Musée national d'Art Moderne, Henri Laurens. Le Cubisme. Constructions et papiers collés. 1915-1919, December 1985-February 1986, p. 78, no. 19 (illustrated; dated 1919).


Construction is a rare polychrome from Laurens' important series of cubist sculptures made in Paris in 1914-1918. A similar metal sculpture titled La Guitare, 1918, is in the collection of the Museum Ludwig, Cologne.

The present sculpture depicts a guitar, and is related to the revolutionary representations of musical instruments made by Picasso and his fellow cubists. For Georges Braque, Juan Gris and Pablo Picasso, the guitar was a significant metaphor for creativity, and Laurens' abiding interest in music underscored his frequent use of the metaphor. Laurens made a number of papiers collés of guitars (see exh. cat., 1985, op. cit., pp. 79-81, nos. 67-69), as well as sculptures and drawings on this subject.

Laurens' connection to the Cubist circle began in 1911 while living in Montmartre, where he developed a close friendship with Braque. Braque's wife Marcelle had been a childhood friend of Laurens' wife Marthe, and Laurens' first studio was so close to Braque's that they could talk to one another through their windows. Braque and Laurens would listen to music together, and while Laurens particularly liked classical and operatic music, he came to be interested in jazz as well. Laurens also knew Alexander Archipenko and Fernand Léger, who also collected Laurens' work.

Having suffered tuberculosis of the bone at age 17, Laurens lost a leg to amputation and was not conscripted during World War I. During this time, he would often visit the studios of other artists living in Paris, including Gris and Picasso, participating in the cross pollination of ideas and techniques that was still occurring if on a more limited basis during the war.

Construction follows Picasso's experimental series of guitar paintings, collages, and sculptures such as Picasso's Guitare (fig. 1). In keeping with Cubist idiom, Laurens breaks with traditional cues of naturalist representation, replacing perspective with fluctuating views. Departing from the traditions of carving and modeling of his training--he came from a family of coppersmiths and studied with an ornamental sculptor--Laurens assembles the constituent parts contrasting two dimensional elements: sheet music rises within the body of the guitar. The structuring of each component plays with the effects of intersecting planes and reflections, contrasting metal against wood. Indeed, as Douglas Cooper has pointed out, Laurens' constructions are "more closely carefully made, more elaborated and conceived in more sculpture terms than Picasso's home carpentered works. Not only did Laurens build up his subject with a clearly articulated structure of planes, to create volume and define a spatial area, but he also distinguished between planes by painting them different colors" (The Cubist Epoch, London, 1995, p. 256).

Certain qualities characterize Laurens' syntax. First is his singular emphasis on color as a means of introducing light, as the artist explained. Next is his meticulous attention to the application of polychromatic effects. Third is the lack of emphasis on the found qualities of his materials. Laurens described his process: "Essentially sculpture means taking possession of a space, the construction of an object by means of hollows and volumes, fullness and voids: their alternations, their contrasts, their constant and reciprocal tension, and in final form, their equilibrium" (quoted in C. Ritchie, Sculpture of the Twentieth Century, New York, 1953, p. 43).

With these techniques, Laurens expanded the practice of Cubist sculpture: "In opening the spaces more consistently, more forcefully, Laurens pushed Picasso's experiments one step further. Laurens' inner volumes are more significant as places than their outer shells. Shadows are more important, accentuating emptiness as mass. Painted components are neither descriptive nor decorative but emphasize fragmented volume" (M. Rowell, The Planar Dimension, exh. cat., Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, New York, 1979, pp. 2-3).

Earning the admiration of critics and artists alike, Laurens' cubist oeuvre was featured at the prominent art dealer Léonce Rosenberg's Galerie d'Effort Moderne in solo exhibitions in 1918 and 1919. Today the artist is considered as one of the preeminent cubist sculptors. Giacometti once wrote of Laurens: "Laurens is one of the very rare sculptors who render what I experience in front of living reality, and that is why I find a likeness in his sculpture, a likeness that gives me a reason to love and admire it" (quoted in D. Cooper, op. cit., p. 262).

Construction's first owner was the discerning art collector Jacques Zoubaloff, who in addition to collecting important modern works by Picasso, Braque, Léger, Gris, and Joseph Csaky, donated much of his holdings to Parisian institutions in the 1920s.

(fig. 1) Pablo Picasso, Guitare, after March 1914. Sheet metal and wire. The Museum of Modern Art, New York.