Impressionist & Modern Art

Three of a Kind: Sculpture

By Sotheby's
Ahead of Sotheby's Modernités sale on 18 October, we take a look at 3 important sculptures by some of the best known artists of the 20th century.

1. Auguste Rodin, Penseur, Petit modèle. Conceived circa 1880-81, the present example was cast circa 1920. Bronze.

In 1880, Auguste Rodin gave form to “man as symbol of humanity, the tough and hard-working man who stops in the middle of his tasks to think of things, to exert a faculty that distinguishes him from the brute” (Rodin, Every country has his beautiful women, says Rodin, unreferenced press cutting, Musee Rodin Archives).
The Thinker is exemplary of Rodin’s exceptional creative process. A method by which the artist succeeds in extracting an icon urbi et orbi from the subject stricto sensu. Entirely naked, he rapidly became, in Rodin’s thought and conception, a man in his elemental state deprived of all historical, mythological and narrative trappings. Seated on a rock, the bone of his hand pressing into his mouth, he plunges his elbow into the muscles of the opposite leg in an unprecedented, almost supernatural position. It is thus that Rodin endows his Thinker with the qualities of a creator. It is as if his extreme concentration absorbs all of his surroundings.

2. Pablo Picasso, Nu assis, 1908, terracotta

This rare terracotta figure is an exceptional testimony to the development of Cubism in sculpture. The influence of Cezanne, his famous injunction to “treat nature through the cylinder, the sphere, the cone, everything placed in perspective; so that each side of an object, a plane, is directed towards a central point” is here applied. The key influence of tribal art that deeply affected the development of modern art is also embodied in this Nu assis and visible not only in the geometrical reduction of forms but also in the expressive force of the figure. Here and there across the surface of Nu assis the artist’s fingerprints are visible pressed into the volumes of the figure and fixed forever in the medium. Sculptures from this period are excessively rare, all the more so in clay. Picasso understood the importance of this piece and did not hesitate to sign it with his initial “P” at the back.

3. César, Double centaure, 1997, bronze

“In my opinion, the motif of the Centaure is the greatest theme in classical statuary. It represents the equestrian landmarks I drew inspiration from when I was still attending l’Ecole des beaux-arts, working before the plasterworks of the antiques room” - César.

César was fascinated by horses and like to remind his students at the Fine Arts School in Paris that the 20th century was the first non-equestrian century in the history of humanity. A hybrid mythological creature, half-man, half-animal, the centaur embodies wild strength, speed, the spirit of conquest. Built of an assemblage of metallic plates, molds and everyday objects molded in bronze, César's version is both powerful and excessively delicate. The artist took particular care over the details of the hands and feet in a way that is reminiscent of classical equestrian sculpture. The face is also intriguing and resembles the artist in its rifts and angles.

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