Lot 42
  • 42

David Smith

1,200,000 - 1,600,000 USD
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  • David Smith
  • Agricola XII
  • inscribed with signature, titled and dated 1952 on plate welded to sculpture; inscribed with signature and dated 11/4/52 on base plane
  • steel
  • 32 x 23 7/8 x 4 5/8 in. 81.3 x 60.6 x 11.7 cm.


Estate of the Artist
Mr. and Mrs. Alistair McAlpine, London
Waddington Galleries, Ltd., London
Private Collection, New York (acquired from the above circa 1970)
Mitchell-Innes & Nash, New York
Acquried by the present owner from the above in 2008


New York, Kootz Gallery, David Smith, New Sculpture, January - February 1953, cat. no. 9


Exh. Cat., Cambridge, Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University (and traveling), David Smith 1906-1965: A Retrospective Exhibition, 1966, handlist no. 229
Rosalind E. Krauss, The Sculpture of David Smith: a Catalogue Raisonné, New York and London, 1977, cat. no. 275, fig. 275, illustrated
Angela Levine, "The Anvil of Smith," The Jerusalem Post, December 10, 1999, p. B14 (text reference)
Exh. Cat., New York, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (and traveling), David Smith: A Centennial, 2006, p. 76 (text reference)
Paul R. Cappucci, William Carlos Williams, Frank O'Hara and the New York Art Scene, Madison, 2010, o. 318 (text reference)


This work is in excellent condition overall. There are noticeable variations in the patina including vestiges of red pigment on the base that are the intent of the artist.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

Working contemporaneously with Abstract Expressionist painters, Smith brought a radical and invigorating approach to sculpture with his mature works of the 1950s. Agricola XII belongs to the series of seventeen sculptures that defines this moment of transition in the oeuvre of David Smith and his masterful handling of metal is exemplified in Agricola XII. The Agricola sculptures are also the first titled series of sculptures, thus inaugurating a method that mapped a distinctive and powerful trajectory for the rest of his career, culminating in his final great series, the Cubi. Smith's series were both organizational and inspirational; each group of works developing its own vocabulary of aesthetic relationships and principles. Abstract but still rooted in the experience of an earthly existence, Agricola XII is an elegant example of Smith's command of a sculptural form whose references move among abstraction, Cubism, Surrealism and even drawing.

Smith's ability to capture in three-dimensions the delicate quality of line found in drawing is truly remarkable. When observing the modulation and tension of line in Agricola XII, it is of little surprise that Smith began his artistic study with the desire to be a painter. The construction of Agricola XII harnesses space in a manner that denotes a kind of "drawing in space." Visually, this sculptural drawing connects to Joan MirĂ³'s use of line, where outlines define geometries and form defines planar volumes. In the early 1930s, Smith began to focus on sculpture more seriously when he was exposed to Pablo Picasso and Julio Gonzalez's innovations in welded iron sculptures. Smith learned of Picasso's new works through the magazine Cahiers d'Art, but unable to read the French text, Smith saw and understood the works of these European sculptors in image only. Completely divorced from any linguistic influence of commentary or criticism, Smith was free to draw from these welded sculptures his own connection to the trajectory of this new sculptural form. Smith had learned to weld as a teenager working at a Studebaker factory in Indiana. He made a direct connection between Picasso's metal sculptures and his own experiences: "Since I had worked in factories and made parts of automobiles and had worked on telephone lines I saw a chance to make sculpture in a tradition I was rooted in." (Exh. Cat., Washington D.C. National Gallery of Art, David Smith, 1982, p. 20). The result was Smith's fabrication of his first all metal sculptures; most notably, Agricola Head,1933, which can be seen as an early precursor to the Agricola series.

Agricola is a Latin term meaning "farmer." Fittingly, the primary components of the Agricola series are discarded pieces of farm machinery. Smith was always attuned to the significance of his chosen material. He described the series in a 1959 interview: "The Agricola series are like new unities whose parts are related to past tools of agriculture. Forms in function are often not appreciated in their context except for their mechanical performance. With time and the passing of their function and a separation of their past, metaphoric changes can take place permitting a new unity, one that is strictly visual." (quoted in Rosalind E. Krauss, The Sculpture of David Smith: A Catalogue RaisonnĂ©, New York and London, 1977, pp. 54-55).  Thus, the work of the artist is to initiate an elevating exchange, whereby the original utility of the individual components is surrendered in light of a new, formal construction. Agricola XII sees this process realized. The delicate terminations of the metal parts are cast in a new light along with other elements, whose graceful curvature or refined geometry supersedes and obscures its former function.

Smith derived the arrangements of these found elements from various inspirations found in the world around him: the glimpse of a geometric pattern, a fleeting thought, an image in a dream. For Smith, sculptural possibilities abounded. In his words, "...how can a man live off of his planet? How on earth can he know anything that he hasn't seen or doesn't exist in his own world? Even his visions have to be made up of the forms and the world that he knows." (David Sylvester, Interviews with American Artists, New Haven, 2001, p. 7). Thus, Agricola XII belongs to a figurative vocabulary that persists in sculptures to follow in future series. Most directly, Agricola XII's graceful verticality bears a resemblance to works in the Sentinel series, the next to emerge in Smith's oeuvre. And the reference to the human form persists through other guises in Smith's Voltri and even the later Cubi works, many of which were exhibited like striding visitors in the fields of Smith's home at Bolton Landing, New York.

Agricola XII finds a companion in the glorious abstracted human forms of Alberto Giacometti, who began his elongated standing and striding figures in the late 1940s. Another artist who often worked in series and an acknowledged influence for Smith, Giacometti's early Surrealist influences had faded in light of his return to a focus on the human form. Agricola XII approximates the aura of a Giacometti figure. The anonymous Agricola is made up of brilliantly conceived but now useless mechanical parts. Similarly, Giacometti's Trois Hommes Qui Marchent (Petit Plateau), 1948 references the divine beauty of our biological construction that will eventually be laid to waste by the march of time. In Agricola XII, David Smith frames this poetic metaphor of a machine no longer in use. Nothing escapes progress. Agrarian life was overtaken by industry, just as man will be overtaken by time.