Detail of the present work

“It is difficult to over-estimate the part he played in the grande époque of Cubism. His polychrome reliefs helped resolve a notable problem: how to work on form without recourse to chiaroscuro […]. I feel the evolution of Laurens went ahead in ways analogous to those followed by his friends Braque, Juan Gris and Picasso.”
Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler quoted in, Laurens cubista (exhibition catalogue), Galleria Pieter Coray, Lugano, 1986, p. 27
Pablo Picasso, Harlequin, oil on canvas, 1915, The Museum of Modern Art, New York © Succession Picasso/DACS, London 2020 / © 2020. Digital image, The Museum of Modern Art, New York/Scala, Florence

Created during a pivotal point in Laurens’ career, at a time when he was immersed in the development of Cubism, Le boxeur exemplifies his unique synthesis of painting and sculpture. Building on the Cubist medium of collage, low relief sculptures became popular amongst the avant-garde with Alexander Archipenko labelling them ‘sculpto-peintures’, evoking their ambiguous relationship between the two-dimensional image and the sculptural. In Le boxeur, this visual liminality is heightened through Laurens’ decision to employ a pictorial, as opposed to a sculptural, vocabulary. Dividing the composition into intersecting planes, Le boxeur reflects the papiers collés of Cubism whilst innovatively leading the movement into the third dimension.

A recurring subject matter within Laurens’ œuvre, the boxer also features in a painted terracotta relief executed in 1920 belonging to The Museum of Modern Art in New York. Exploring the possibilities of polychromatic relief sculpture, Laurens produced reliefs in a number of unusual mediums, however, those executed in stone are particularly rare. In the present work, Laurens enhanced the carved elements by applying vibrant pigments. Inspired by the polychromatic palettes of medieval and Gothic sculpture, Laurens sought to create an art form that blended the medieval with the modern, a conceit emphasised by his use of limestone. In its meticulous craftsmanship and sensitivity to the medium in which it has been carved, Le boxeur is an excellent example of Laurens’ technical skill and unique vision.

Henri Laurens, Tête de boxeur, painted terracotta, 1920, The Museum of Modern Art, New York © DACS, London 2020 / © 2020. Digital image, The Museum of Modern Art, New York/Scala, Florence