Lot 132
  • 132

Georges Lacombe

300,000 - 500,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • Georges Lacombe
  • L'Aurore
  • Inscribed G. Lacombe 
  • Mahogany
  • Height: 83 1/2 in.
  • 212 cm


Estate of the artist
Sylvie Mora-Lacombe, France (the artist's daughter)
Acquired from the daughter of the above in 1986


Paris, Salon d'Automne, 1908 (unfinished)
Paris, Société nationale des Beaux-Arts, 1909, no. 1878 (unfinished)
Paris, Galerie Hessel, Sculptures sur bois de Georges Lacombe, 1912
Paris, Galerie Balzac, Exposition rétrospective des oeuvres de Georges Lacombe, 1924, no. 2
Vienna, Palais Lobkowitz, Maîtres français vers 1900, 1949, no. 17
Paris, Musée national d'art moderne, Bonnard, Vuillard et les Nabis, 1955, no. 115


Léon Vauxcelles, "Le Salon de la société nationale" in L'Art et les Artistes, vol. IX, April-September 1909, p. 141
Léon Vauxcelles, "Le Salon de la société nationale" in Gil Blas, April 1909, n.p.
Gustave Coquiot, "Quelques sculpteurs sur bois" in L'Art et les artistes, vol. XI, April-September 1910, p. 200
Paul Muller, "Exposition Georges Lacombe" in Gil Blas, April 5, 1912, n.p.
Pierre Hepp, "Georges Lacombe" in L'Art et les artistes, no. 50, October 1924, pp. 8-15
Philippe Faure, "Le Groupe des Nabis" in Arts, November 18, 1949, n.p.
Blandine Salmon & Olivier Mesley, Georges Lacombe-Sculptures-peintures-dessins, Paris, 1991, no. 20, illustrated p. 29
Joëlle Ansieau, Georges Lacombe, 1868-1916, Paris, 1998, no. 192, illustrated p. 189


This sculpture is carved from a single piece of wood and the mahogany is an even deeper tone of red than in the illustrated catalogue. There is naturally-occurring striation to the wood which is visible on the polished surface of the sculpture throughout. There are what appear to be two shallow cracks in the wood across the top of each of her feet, which are not structural and do not detract from the work as a whole. There is what appears to be a relatively shallow vertical crack in the wood running down from the figure's back all the way down the drapery at the back of her feet. This is also thought to be inherent in the piece of mahogany chosen by the artist. There are associated nicks and imperfections to the wood in the area surrounding this crack and additional minor nicks and scratches to the rest of the figure. The sculpture is in very good original condition. The work presents beautifully in person
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

Exquisitely carved from a single block of mahogany, George Lacombe’s Aurore is imbued with an extraordinary sensuality and grace. Undoubtedly one of the artist’s most ambitious undertakings and a rare masterpiece of Nabis sculpture, the present work is a powerful example of both Lacombe’s distinctive Symbolism and his understanding of the female form.

Born in Versailles to an affluent family, Lacombe was encouraged in his choice of an artistic career by his parents and received his training at the Académie Julian in Paris. It was here that he met Paul Sérusier and Émile Bernard in 1892, shortly afterwards becoming a member of their group Les Nabis. Originally a painter, Lacombe’s contact with the Nabis artists inspired a passion for sculpture, and in particular for working in wood. In 1894, when the group held an exhibition at Le Barc de Boutteville, Lacombe’s contribution was a polychrome bas-relief entitled Isis which was strongly influenced by Gauguin to whom he had been introduced by Sérusier over the winter of 1893. Clearly impressed with Lacombe’s skills as a sculptor, Gauguin later wrote to his friend and patron Daniel de Monfreid to recommend the young artist: “here is a list of names that you could go and see: Lerolle, painter, Rouart, painter and engineer, Jean Dolent, Sérusier and his student from Versailles who sculpts in wood like I do” (quoted in Au temps des Nabis (exhibition catalogue), Galerie Huguette Berès, Paris, 1990, n.p., translated from the French).

In 1908, whilst Lacombe was working on the present work, a critic named Jean Vignaud visited his studio in Versailles to conduct an interview for the review L’Art et Les Artistes. Vignaud wrote of Lacombe’s spirited temperament and athletic physique, and of the confidence with which he wielded his tools: “I saw Georges Lacombe at work: he was roughly shaping the wood not with a wood-turner but with an axe; necessitating an astonishing audacity and judgment […] If we are to believe Georges Lacombe, there is a great battle to be had between the wood and the artist, a battle that is never-ending and which hooks you in by the very anxiety to which it gives rise. At any given moment, living nature can rebel against the tool. Take a chisel to a log seemingly dead for centuries, and you cannot be sure that it won’t start to move, to produce sap, as each new layer comes into contact with the air. The larger the piece of wood, the more grain to contend with, the more demanding the textures. This stops the work of the sculptor from ever becoming mechanical […] the surprises are numerous; the artist’s battle passionate” (Jean Vignaud, ‘Georges Lacombe’ in L’Art et Les Artistes, April-September 1908, quoted in Joelle Ansieau, Georges Lacombe 1868-1916, Catalogue Raisonné, 1998, pp. 99-100, translated from the French).

Directly carved, first with an axe and then in smaller strokes with a hammer and chisel, Lacombe’s Aurore emerged, little by little, from a single block of mahogany with rich reddish hues. Hieratic despite the slight suggestion of movement in her left leg, she stands life-size, a young woman with a voluptuous body, still clasping the veil that covered her. In lifting the veil from her head, the allegorical figure of Aurora (or Dawn) evokes the image of the sun rising at the break of day—the emergence of light from a cloak of darkness. The subtle contrapposto in her formal, ritualistic stance recalls the stately temple caryatids of ancient Greece. In the manner of Botticelli’s Venus—of which Lacombe made several studies whilst working on Aurore—she nevertheless contains something of the earthly sensuality, the rustic simplicity of a living, breathing young woman that is quite distinct from the aristocratic perfection of the Classical ideal (see fig. 2). Indeed, Lacombe’s model for Aurore is believed to have been the 18-year-old daughter of a family friend. The finished surface is variously smooth and polished in places, rough-hewn with traces of the artist’s tools in others, so that light dances rhythmically across her figure. The contrast, which is reminiscent of Michelangelo’s works, enabled Lacombe to highlight the radiance of her face and her somewhat stoic, distant expression. Far from a sorrowful or anecdotal vision, Lacombe has created a figure which echoes the stark Symbolism of contemporary artists such as Munch or Gauguin and prefigures the large figurative allegorical sculptures of Maillol; Aurore is a majestic woman conscious of the seriousness of her role as announcer of a new dawn.

Over the course of his career, Lacombe created only 50 sculptures, 30 of which are carved in wood and almost exclusively executed before 1912. This relatively low output was in large part due to the meticulous, laborious nature of Lacombe’s preferred methods although it also owed something to the auspicious state of his finances; Lacombe had no financial imperative to sell his work and could create with complete autonomy. For this reason too, almost his entire oeuvre—gifts and commissions aside—remained within the artist’s family until long after his death and the majority now belong in the collections of museums such as the Musée d’Orsay, the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Lille and the Musée du Petit Palais in Geneva.