Lot 31
  • 31

Germaine Richier

200,000 - 300,000 GBP
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  • Germaine Richier
  • L'Escrimeuse avec masque and L'Escrimeuse (2 works)
  • i) incised with the artist's signature, numbered 5/6 on the right foot and stamped with the foundry mark Fonderie de la Plaine on the left foot

    ii) incised with the artist's signature, numbered HC1 on the right foot and stamped with the foundry mark Fonderie de la Plaine on the left foot

  • bronze with dark patina
  • i) 101 by 70.5 by 33.5cm.; 39 3/4 by 27 3/4 by 13 1/4 in.
  • ii) 101 by 68.5 by 35.5cm.; 39 3/4 by 27 by 14in.
  • i) Executed in 1943, this work is number 5 from an edition numbered 1/6 through 6/6 and HC1, HC2, HC3, EA, 0/6.


Private Collection, Paris

Thence by descent to the present owner 


i) Arles, Musée Réattu, Germaine Richier 1904-1959, 1964, n.p., no. 6,
(text), another example exhibited

Berlin, Akademie der Künste, Germaine Richier, 1997, p. 102, no. 14, another example illustrated

Venice, Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Germaine Richier, 2006-07, p. 62, another example illustrated

ii) Berlin, Ancien Musée de l'Armée, La sculpture française de Rodin à nos jours, 1947, n.p., no. 63, another example illustrated

London, Anglo French Art Centre, Sculptures of Germaine Richier, Engravings Studio of Roger Lacourière, 1947, n.p., no. 5, (text), another example exhibited

Bratislava; Brno; Munich, Sculptures françaises contemporaines en Tchécoslovaquie et en Allemagne, 1947-48, n.p., (text), another example exhibited 

Venice, Venice Biennale, XXIV Biennale di Venezia, Padiglione Della Francia, 1948, p. 249, no. 44, (text), another example exhibited

Zurich, Kunsthaus Zürich, Germaine Richier 1904-1959, 1963, p. 27, no. 12, pl. 1, another example illustrated

Arles, Musée Réattu, Germaine Richier 1904-1959, 1964, n.p., no. 5, (text), another example exhibited

Annecy, Château des Ducs de Nemours, Germaine Richier, 1967, another example exhibited

Saint-Rémy-les-Chevreuse, Fondation de Coubertin, Jeunesse et sports, 1977, n.p., no. 73, (text), another example exhibited

Saint-Paul de Vence, Fondation Maeght, Germaine Richier: Rétrospective, 1996, p. 41, no. 10, another example illustrated in colour

Berlin, Akademie der Künste, Germaine Richier, 1997, p. 12, no. 13, installation view of another example; and p. 103, another example illustrated

Venice, Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Germaine Richier, 2006-07, pp. 32, 62 and 63, another example illustrated

Bremen, Gerhard-Marcks-Stiftung, Germaine Richier: allein das Menschliche zählt, 2007-08, p. 7, another example illustrated in colour


i) Romuald Dor de la Shouchère, et. al., Germaine Richier (1904-1959), Paris 1966, n.p., illustrated

ii) Lucien Mazenod, Les Femmes Célèbres, Vol. I, Paris 1960, n.p., (text)

H. Cingria, ‘Itinéraire provençal: Arles’, Lettres Françaises, Paris, June – August, 1964, n.p., (text)

Romuald Dor de la Shouchère, et. al., Germaine Richier (1904-1959), Paris, 1966, n.p., illustrated

Enrico Crispolti, ‘I maestro della scultura’Germaine RichierMilan 1968, p. 50, no. 65, another example illustrated

Florence Montreynaud, ‘Germaine Richier, l'Ouragane,’ in: Le xx siècle des femmes, Paris 1989, p. 366, (text)


Colour: The colour in the catalogue illustration is fairly accurate, although the overall tonality is warmer in the original. Condition: This work is in very good condition. The patina is regular and even throughout.
"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. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

Steeped in dynamic tension, these two sculptures segue between saltatory movement and solidity at the climacteric moment before attack. Encapsulating the central elements of Germaine Richier’s work with remarkable aplomb, L'Escrimeuse (The Fencer) and L'Escrimeuse avec masque (The Fencer with a mask) express physical qualities of dynamism and stasis through the artist’s analytical study of the human form. Depicted with conflicting aesthetic composition, the two fencers stand vehemently opposed; where the gallant L'Escrimeuse avec masque is adorned with full combat attire, fencing foil in hand, L’Escrimeuse’s uncovered body is vulnerable yet dispositionally alert, only the intimation of a fencing shoe attests to verity of the figure’s practice. The fused strands of delicacy and force that bind these figures attest to the nature of Richier’s sculptural process and her affinity for analysing the human body in motion.

In preparation for creating the present works, Richier hired a female model with strong muscular definition as a muse and consulted with a fencing master from the University of Zurich to ensure that the posture and movement was accurate. This attention to detail allowed her sculptural process to begin with absolute truth from which she could mould eccentric forms that hint at a deeper, more expressive reality. As Françoise Guiter assuredly notes, “Richier chose a fencer not in order to depict the theme itself, but as a pretext for a fresh study of movement, selecting a posture in the heat of the contest, the legs flexed in readiness for the thrust. Richier used to say that she did not seek to replicate a specific movement, but rather to evoke it, and that her sculptures should give the impression of being both immobile and about to stir (Françoise Guiter quoted in: Exhibition Catalogue, Venice, The Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Richier, 2006, p. 62). Though the steady pose is accurate and lifelike, the rippling flesh and attire in the present works establish instability – as if nothing is quite fixed or certain. In this way, by observing the plasticity of the present work, the imagination is ignited, being provoked to see beyond the mere representation of a model, but the implied dynamic moment it is caught in.

The essence of the works’ surfaces further intimate the transformative quality of the clay from which they were originally moulded and therefore link them with the unruly coarseness of nature. As the figures appear to move, their very substance diminishes, as if they were again falling back into the earth from which they were originally crafted. Moreover, Richier’s powerful visual language and tactile sculptural methods recall additional masters of post-war sculpture; the viewer is particularly reminded of the spectral ethereal figures of Alberto Giacometti. Giacometti and Richier were certainly acquainted and robust resonances can be found between the present works and those in Giacometti’s oeuvre; notably L'homme qui chavire who is similarly caught on the verge of motion, or Homme signalent whose bold gesticulation mimics that of the present works. The fact that L'Escrimeuse and L'Escrimeuse avec masque preceded these similar products of Giacometti’s practice by several years only serves to strengthen the implication of their cultural importance and artistic influence in post-war Europe.

These two resplendent figures, depicted in varying states of representation symbolise a poignant moment in Richier’s oeuvre. Just one year after creating L'Escrimeuse and L'Escrimeuse avec masque, Richier made her first anamorphic works which combined human and insect forms into a cacophony of rich visual expression. Seen in this light, the present work's principle of being on the edge of movement also becomes a parallel for being on the edge of abstraction, the edge of fantastic worlds, and the edge of continuously fruitful artistic investigations; they are Richier’s point of departure, her moment of attack. These present works are therefore germinal of the celebrated works Richier produced throughout the 1940s; in capturing figures in movement she endows them with the potential of change, or even the ability to transform which became such a central leitmotif throughout her entire oeuvre.