Details & Cataloguing

Surrealist Art Evening Sale


Jean Arp
1886 - 1966
white marble
height (not including base): 61cm.
Carved in 1931.
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Oskar Müller-Widmann, Basel (acquired by 1955, probably in the 1930s)

Anja Petzold-Müller, Basel (by descent from the above after 1955)

Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2013 


Basel, Kunstmuseum, Schwitters_Arp, 2004, no. 41, illustrated in the catalogue


Carola Giedion-Welcker, Modern Plastic Art, Zurich, 1937, illustrated p. 97 (as dating from 1933)

George Schmidt, In memoriam Oskar Müller-Widmann 1887–1956, Basel, 1956, listed (as dating from 1932)

Michel Seuphor, Arp, Paris, 1957, illustrated p. 27

Carola Giedion-Welcker, Hans Arp, Stuttgart, 1957, no. 8, illustrated pp. 86 & 87

Ernst Scheidegger (ed.), Zweiklang. Sophie Taeuber-Arp/Hans Arp, Zurich, 1960, illustrated in a photograph of the artist's studio p. 66

Michel Sephor, Petite encyclopedie de l’art, New York, 1964, no. 6, illustrated 

Herbert Read, Arp, London, 1968, no. 90, illustrated p. 86 (with incorrect measurements)

Ionel Jianou, Jean Arp, Paris, 1973, no. 8, catalogued p. 66

Stefanie Poley, Hans Arp. Die Formensprache im plastischen Werk, Stuttgart, 1978, plaster version illustrated p. 77

Margherita Andreotti, The Early Sculpture of Jean Arp, London, 1989, no. 21, illustrated figs. 69 & 70

Arie Hartog & Kai Fischer, Hans Arp. Sculptures. A Critical Survey, Ostfildern, 2012, no. 8, illustrated p. 67

Catalogue Note

In the 1930s, Jean Arp’s work took a new direction. Having already incorporated abstracted shapes into his wall reliefs, he began to expand into biomorphic sculpture, developing a highly distinct and broad vocabulary of organic forms in the round. For Arp, the form itself became of paramount importance and exceeded the need for representation or literal meaning. Torse was one of the first three-dimensional works that Arp produced out of his newfound impulse towards pure form. As the artist said: 'For many years, roughly from the end of 1919 to 1931, I interpreted most of my works. Often the interpretation was more important for me than the work itself. 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 Hauerei (hewing). I engaged in sculpture and modelled in plaster. The first products were two torsos' (quoted in Francis M. Naumann, The Mary and William Sisler Collection, New York, 1984, p. 38).

The art of randomness was essential to Arp at this time: he saw ‘chance’ as his active collaborator. This in itself was a progressive concept in art, for artists had long striven for a connoisseurial level of control. Arp, however, would generate his shapes first, and title them post-completion, thus eliminating as far as possible the interference of the conscious mind, something which his fellow Surrealist artists also experimented with. As such, Arp created forms of unique distinction, clearly inspired by the natural shapes around him but succeeding in transcending the restrictions of the tangible. Alfred Barr in 1958 described Arp as a ‘one-man laboratory for the discovery of the new form’ (quoted in Arp (exhibition catalogue), The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1958, p. 7).

While essentially abstract, Torse alludes to the human body, whose undulating form conjuring a slim waist and delicate curve of the back expresses a distinctly feminine aesthetic; the marble material accentuates the smooth and sinuous contours. The allusion to the female nude perhaps derives from Arp’s early drawings of this subject, which date to well before his execution of biomorphic shapes. Without extremities or any literal articulation of detail, however, Torse succeeds in expressing Arp’s passionate sense of the female body in the suggestions of its curves and fold: its wholeness lies in its power to evoke. Eduard Trier observed: ‘Arp knows only the torso, but not as a fragment of something originally whole. The torso becomes an independent complete form’ (E. Trier, Jean Arp: Sculpture, 1957-66, London, 1968, p. XI).

Surrealist Art Evening Sale