Lot 52
  • 52

Jean Arp

1,200,000 - 1,500,000 GBP
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  • Jean Arp
  • Homme-moustache
  • signed Hans Arp and titled on the reverse
  • oil on cut-out board
  • 54.3 by 49.6cm.
  • 21 3/8 by 19 1/2 in.


Eugene Victor Thaw & Co., New York

Dr Peter Nathan, Zurich (sold: Klipstein und Kornfeld, Bern, 9th May 1963, lot 21)

Saidenberg Gallery, New York

Nelson Aldrich Rockefeller, New York (acquired by 1969)

Galerie d'Art Moderne, Basel

Private Collection, Germany (acquired circa 1975. Sold: Christie's, New York, 4th May 2011, lot 3)

Purchased at the above sale by the present owner


New York, The Museum of Modern Art, Twentieth Century Art from the Nelson Aldrich Rockefeller Collection, 1969, illustrated in the catalogue (as dating from circa 1924)


Stefanie Poley, Hans Arp. Die Formensprache im plastischen Werk, Stuttgart, 1978, no. 113, illustrated p. 81

Bernd Rau & Michel Seuphor, Hans Arp. Die Reliefs, Œuvre-Katalog, Stuttgart, 1981, no. 67, illustrated p. 39

Catalogue Note

Cut-outs 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 cut-outs and wood 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 Herbert Read, Arp, London, 1968, p. 72).

Homme-moustache was executed in 1925, the year when Arp moved to Paris, taking a studio at 22 rue Tourlaque, neighbouring 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 works 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 cut-outs and 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 composition is dominated by a boldly coloured blue form against the yellow and black background. Three cut-out shapes suggest the eyes and nose, while the blue shape can be identified as the moustache referred to in the title.

Jane Hancock wrote about Arp’s production 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. […] 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).

Indeed, all of these characteristics are beautifully displayed in the present work: the organic shapes are crisply delineated and defined by simple, nearly abstract forms. Despite the flatness of the composition, the diagonal slant of the central feature and the shadows created by the cut-out elements give it a sense of fluidity and movement. Executed shortly after the dissipation of the Dada movement and in the early days of Surrealism, Homme-moustache shows influences of both philosophies on Arp’s work, and is a powerful testament to this pivotal moment in the development of Modern Art.