James Wise, Geneva & New York
Galerie du Perron, Geneva (by 1962)
Brook Street Gallery, London
Galerie Tarica, Paris
Acquired from the above by the present owners
Paris, Galerie Goemans, Arp, 1929, no. 1 (titled Deux torses tenant par la bride une tête de cheval)
Paris, Musée National d’Art Moderne, Arp, 1962, no. 57
Geneva, Galerie du Perron, Arp, 1962, no. 1, illustrated in the catalogue
London, Hayward Gallery, Dada and Surrealism Reviewed, 1978, no. 8.3, ilustrated in color in the catalogue (as dating from 1922)
Stuttgart, Württembergischer Kunstverein; Musée d'Art Moderne de Strasbourg; Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris: Minneapolis Institute of Art: Boston, Museum of Fine Arts Boston & San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Arp - 1886-1966 1986-88, no. 80, illustrated in color in the catalogue
Nuremberg, Kunsthalle, Hans Arp, 1994-95, no. 29, illustrated in color in the catalogue
Munich, Haus der Kunst, Elan Vital oder das Auge des Eros, 1994, no. 36, illustrated in color in the catalogue
Barcelona, Fondacio Joan Miró, Hans Arp, 2001-02, no. 45, illustrated in color in the catalogue
Madrid, Circulo de Bellas Artes, Jean Arp Retrospectiva, 1915-1966, 2006, no. 8, illustrated in colour in the catalogue
Bahnhof Rolandseck, Arp Museum, Hans Arp, Die Natur der Dinge, 2007-08, no. 41, illustrated in color in the catalogue
Serge Fouchereau, Arp, London, 1989, no. 146, illustrated in color p. 107
Torse tenant par la bride une tête de cheval was executed in 1925, the year when Arp moved to Paris, taking a studio at 22 rue Tourlaque, neighboring those of Max Ernst and Joan Miró. Arp’s involvement with the Surrealist group had grown through his acquaintance with these artists as well as with André Breton. His reliefs executed during this period evolved from his earlier Dada imagery, while adopting a less abstract manner and at the same time pointing to his interest in Constructivism. The principle of chance that led Arp in the creation of his reliefs shows a great affinity with the philosophy of the Surrealist artists, as does his tendency to depict forms evocative of the human body in a humorous, sometimes grotesque manner.
The present work is a highly accomplished example of the artist's ability to take inspiration from natural forms around him, while managing to transcend the realm of the tangible. The composition is dominated by a large figure with a protruding head and a distinct eye, which the title helps us identify as a horse, with two curving lines designating reins; at the end of one of them, a small red-painted shape is identified as a torso which, while described in the title as holding the horse’s head, appears to swing at the end of the reins, adding a humorous note to the composition.
Jane Hancock wrote about Arp’s reliefs from the 1920s: "Highly stylized and often comical images of human beings and everyday objects dominated Arp’s work in the 1920s. He based these on the real world but did not use them in a conventional representational manner. Once he compared this nonliteral iconography and highly original style to a linguistic system: The problem of the object language cropped up in 1920: the navel, the clock, the doll, etc. The elements of this Object Language included not only whole figures and faces, but also isolated features such as lips, noses, navels, and breasts […]. They often bear slight resemblance to the items they represent, and the viewer unfamiliar with Arp’s work must depend on his titles to identify them. […] The colors of the reliefs tended to become subdued during the 1920s, with less red, green, and yellow, and more white, gray, blue, and black. Arp continued to insist on many aesthetic principles he had adopted earlier: clearly defined forms, organic shapes, irregular compositional arrangements, flatness" (J. Hancock, "The Figure and Its Attributes: Dada and Surrealism", in Arp (exhibition catalogue), op. cit., p. 88).
Indeed, all of these characteristics are displayed eloquently in the present work: the palette consists of various shades of gray, counterbalanced by the small image of a human torso painted in red. The organic shapes are crisply delineated, and the various elements – the horse, the torso and the reins – are defined by simple, nearly abstract forms. Despite the flatness of the composition, the diagonal slant of the horse, the three-dimensionality of the torso and its shadow give it a sense of movement and drama. Executed shortly after the dissipation of the Dada movement and in the early days of Surrealism, the present relief shows the influence of both philosophies on Arp’s work.
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