Frances Archipenko Gray has confirmed the authenticity of this work.
Woman combing her hair , conceived in 1915 and cast circa 1922 is one of the most important works by Archipenko and is currently the earliest cast recorded. The work was acquired by Eduard Rosenbaum, probably in the 1920s, who was a prominent man in the pre-war German Jewish community and a member of the Treaty of Versailles German delegation. In the 1930s he was helped to the safety of the UK, as a refugee from Nazi Germany, by economist John Maynard Keynes.
Archipenko had been lauded as the leading and most influential sculptor of the pre-war Paris avant-garde, creating a new unique modernist language, which would leave a lasting legacy on twentieth-century sculpture. Christa Lichenstern states, ‘The esteem in which Archipenko was held as sculptor, first in Germany and later in the United States, reinforces his position as a unique modernist phenomenon in the history of sculpture’ (Exh. cat., Canto d’Amore, Kunstmuseum Basel, 1996, pp. 152).
Closely allied with Paris's artistic vanguard, Archipenko was among the earliest sculptors to attempt a truly three-dimensional equivalent of Cubism, establishing an entirely new vocabulary for 20th Century sculpture. Alfred H. Barr, Jr., the first director of The Museum of Modern Art, described Archipenko in 1936 as, ‘the first to work seriously and consistently at the problem of Cubist sculpture’ (Exh. cat., Cubism and Modern Art, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1936, p. 104). This Cubist aesthetic can be clearly seen in Woman combing her hair, 1915, which is one of Archipenko’s finest works of the period. Influenced by the Cubist notion of integrating the figure with the surrounding space, Archipenko embraced negative space as an active element of sculptural articulation, imbuing it with equal value as his solid forms. By introducing the void as a positive element in sculpture, he helped change the traditional concept of sculptural form in the early 20th Century. Drawing a new equivalent between the dialectics of plane and shadow and the play of presence and absence implied by concave and convex shapes, Archipenko incorporated light into his sculpture, which is used to great effect in Woman combing her hair. This manipulation of light was important in perceiving the human form as it added an element of dynamism to his work, giving the dramatic effect of the figure advancing and receding simultaneously, which in turn gave the impression of movement and life.
Although Archipenko’s aesthetic changed throughout the years, altering from a Cubist aesthetic to a more Classical leaning, the artist never lost the power and potency in his work. What was important for Archipenko was ‘invention’, which he spent his lifetime in relentless pursuit of. Archipenko exclaimed two months before his death, ‘To invent! Does anything more important exist? In truth, I don't think so’ (quoted in Y. Taillandier, "Conversation avec Archipenko," XX Sicle, vol. 25, no. 22, Christmas 1963). As can be seen in the present work Archipenko juxtaposed the archaic, religious and modernist, playing with colour, texture and the surface of the bronze, contrasting polished planes with textured areas to allow the light to fall differently on them. What remains imbued in Archipenko’s work and is seen in Woman combing her hair is a timeless quality, creating an enduring motif, which eclipses religion, time and culture, becoming instead an essence of human experience and representation.
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