Including the present work, there are six known versions of Elie Nadelman's heads executed in wood. A similar example in wood titled Woman's Head is in the collection of the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. The present work also retains its original base by the artist.
At the onset of the twentieth century, Nadelman employed wood to create original works depicting heads, figures and reliefs with his hallmark deft execution. Rendered with both lyricism and elegance, Head of a Woman is a superb example of Nadelman's artistic practice in the medium.
Nadelman, whose name is closely associated with the inception of modern art in the United States, had strong convictions about the essence of creation, and the meaning behind his art. When asked to explain his work, he went straight to the crux of his philosophy: "But what is this true form of art? It is significant and abstract, i.e., composed of geometrical elements. Here is how I realize it. I employ no other line than the curve, which possesses freshness and force. I compose these curves so as to bring them in accord or in opposition to one another. In that way I obtain the life of form, i.e., harmony. In that way I intend that the life of the work should come from within itself. The subject of any work of art is for me nothing but a pretext for creating significant form, relations of forms which create a new life that has nothing to do with life in nature, a life from which art is born, and from which spring style and unity. From significant form comes style, from relations form, i.e., the necessity of playing one form against another, comes unity. I leave it to others to judge the importance of so radical a change in the means used to create a work of art." (as quoted in L. Kirstein, Elie Nadelman, New York, 1973, p. 265)
Nadelman's highly structured theories of art and his powerfully spare sculpture had a subtle influence over many American sculptors of the modern movement. Wayne Craven credited Nadelman with contributing to "the emancipation of the American sculptor from the academic tradition." (Sculpture in America, Newak, Delaware, 1984, p. 591) His influence was vast on artists and art collectors alike. While living in Paris, Nadelman became acquainted with many of the figures on the forefront of the modern art movement, including Gertrude and Leo Stein, Pablo Picasso and Constantine Brancusi. In addition, his most celebrated patron was Helena Rubenstein, and he was also close to Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney.