Jean (Hans) Arp (1886-1966)
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Jean (Hans) Arp (1886-1966)

Thales of Miletus

Jean (Hans) Arp (1886-1966)
Thales of Miletus
signed with the monogram, numbered and inscribed with the foundry mark '4/5 Susse Fondeur Paris' (on the underside)
bronze with brown patina
41 1/8 in (104.5 cm.)
Conceived in 1951; this bronze version cast in 1962
François Arp, Paris (the artist's brother).
Ruth Tillard-Arp, Paris, by descent from the above; sale, Hôtel Druot, Paris, 12 June 2003, lot 31.
Acquired from the above sale by the present owner.
C. Giedion-Welcker, Hans Arp, Stuttgart, 1957, no. 116, p. 111 (granite version listed).
I. Jianou, Jean Arp, Paris, 1973, no. 116, p. 72.
S. Poley, Hans Arp: Die Formensprache im Plastischen Werk, Stuttgart, 1978, no. 56, p. 217 (another cast illustrated p. 46).
S. Fauchereau, Arp, Barcelona, 1988, p. 29 (another cast illustrated).
A. Hartog, ed., Jean Arp, Sculptures: A Critical Survey, Ostfildern, 2012, no. 116, pp. 285-286 (another cast illustrated p. 285).
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By 1930, roughly two years after he disengaged from the surrealist group, Jean Arp found himself more and more preoccupied by the expanded volumes of sculpture in the round. As he recalled in later life, ‘Suddenly my need for interpretation vanished, and the body, the form, the supremely perfected work became everything to me. In 1930 I went back to the activity which the Germans so eloquently call hewing’ (quoted in Arp, exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1958, p. 14). It was from this point forward that Arp learned to transform the biomorphic shapes of his earlier reliefs into full-fledged sculptural forms. The 1920s had been a richly prolific period for the artist, one in which he absorbed the intellectual precepts of Dadaism, followed swiftly by Surrealism and later Constructivism. Yet it was during the following decade that Arp would articulate his mature expressive range and establish the prototypes to which he would persistently return. Finding a touchstone in the eternal process of nature, his sculptures play infinite variations on this theme, instinctively recasting its elemental motifs - organic bodies, biological shapes - into integral new forms.

Conceived in 1951, Thales of Miletus illustrates Arp’s continued fascination with the natural world, taking its title from the ancient philosopher of the same name, whom Aristotle identified as the founder of the school of natural philosophy. Indeed, Arp once recounted a conversation he had with Piet Mondrian, in which the latter, drawing upon the symbolist heritage of the late 19th century, established art and nature as opposing principles. Arp disagreed, primarily because he viewed art as a process that unites man and nature. Moreover, he seems to have seen himself as a creative force, as an artist who produces nature. For instance, he explained his disapproval of the application of the term ‘abstract’ to his work: ‘We do not wish to copy nature. We do not want to reproduce, we want to produce. We want to produce as a plant produces a fruit and does not itself reproduce. We want to produce directly and without mediation. As there is not the least trace of abstraction in this art, we will call it concrete art’ (quoted in S. Fauchereau, Arp, New York, 1988, p. 20).

Arp's emphasis on the generative impulse and the act of becoming is strongly reflected in the welling sense of growth one always senses in his sculpture: ‘Often some detail in one of my sculptures, a curve or a contrast that moves me, becomes the germ of a new work... Sometimes it will take months, even years to work out a new sculpture... Each of these bodies has a definite significance, but it is only when I feel there is nothing more to change that I decide what it is, and it is only then that I give it a name’ (quoted in H.E. Read, The Art of Jean Arp, New York, 1968, p. 87).

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