Lot 38
  • 38

Jean Arp

2,500,000 - 3,500,000 USD
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  • Jean Arp
  • Les Deux soeurs
  • painted wood relief 
  • 29 3/4 by 23 7/8 in. 75.6 by 60.7 cm


Galerie Schwarzenberg, Brussels 
Private Collection, Brussels (acquired from the above in 1932)
André Culvelier, Brussels (acquired by descent from the above)
M. Knoedler & Co. Inc, New York 
Acquired from the above in 1968


Musée d'Ixelles, Ecole de Paris dans les Collections Belges, 1961


Variétés, Brussels, 1929-30, no. 7, pp. 506-07, illustrated 
Robert Goldwater, Space and Dream, New York, 1967, p. 29, illustrated
Bernd Rau, Jean Arp, The Reliefs, Catalogue of Complete Works, Stuttgart, 1981, no. 122a, p. 65, illustrated 
Margherita Andreotti, The Early Sculpture of Jean Arp, Ann Arbor, 1989, fig. 59, p. 171, illustrated 

Catalogue Note

Executed in 1927, Les Deux soeurs is a highly accomplished example of Arp’s wood reliefs. Wood reliefs held a central place in Arp’s work throughout his career, from the time of his collaboration with the Dada group in Zurich, to his mature and highly productive period of the 1950s and 1960s. Guided by chance and intuition, the artist created organic, irregular shapes evocative of natural forms and parts of human anatomy. Although he developed a highly abstract pictorial vocabulary, in his reliefs Arp always established a connection between these biomorphic forms and elements of the natural world in such a way as to unveil the mysterious and poetic elements hidden in everyday images. As he once wrote in a letter to a friend: "Dada is for nature and against ‘art’. Dada is, like nature, ‘direct’, and seeks to give everything its essential place in nature. Dada is for infinite sense and definite means" (quoted in H. Read, Arp, London, 1968, p. 72). 

Les Deux soeurs was executed in 1927, two years after Arp moved to Paris and settled in a studio at 22 rue Tourlaque beside 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 colorful contours of Les Deux soeurs transcend anatomical classification and embody Arp’s sensuous aesthetic.

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), Württembergischer Kunstverein, Stuttgart (and travelling), 1986-88, p. 88).