Exuding a remarkable sensuality through its gently curvilinear forms, Nu couché à la draperie
softens the angular lines that characterised Henri Laurens’ earlier sculptural œuvre
, standing as a superb exemplar of the sculptor’s post-Cubist approach to form. Laurens' increasing preference for curved lines evolved, rather than replaced, the Cubist credo of the primacy of form. His emphasis on ‘sculptural fact’, and the creativity that lay at the heart of the process of construction, drew inspiration from Georges Braque’s declaration to ‘work with matter and not with ideas’ (quoted in Werner Hofmann, ‘The Development of the Artist’s Work’, in The Sculpture of Henri Laurens
, New York, 1970, p. 32). Indeed, commenting on the close social as well as creative relationship that flourished between the two artists, Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler reflected that, ‘Laurens and Braque could wave to each other from their windows’, where Laurens was living and working in a ‘little house in the Impasse Girardon at the edge of the Montmartre’ (Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, ‘Recollections of Henri Laurens' in, ibid
., p. 49).
The female nude was a motif that provided sustained imaginative appeal for Laurens' sculptural work throughout his career, and Nu couché à la draperie
is testament to Laurens' lifelong quest, in his own words, for the ‘ripeness of forms’ (quoted in ibid.
, p. 32). Conceived in 1927, the present work was created at a time in which Laurens’ imagination continually reworked the shape of the female figure to distill increasingly fluid forms, for which the external space became as important as the internal sculptural mass. Three years before his death, Laurens remarked to Yvon Taillandier, the French artist and critic: ‘When I begin a sculpture I have only a vague idea of what I want it to be. For example, I have an idea of a woman or something that has to do with the sea. Before my sculpture becomes a representation of anything it is a sculptural fact. More precisely, it is a result of sculptural events, of the products of my imagination, of answers to the demands of the construction’ (quoted in ibid
., p. 31).
The present work boasts a distinguished provenance, having formerly been owned by Hungarian-born Agnes Widlund, a dealer who launched the legendary Konstsalongen Samlaren in 1943. At the helm of one of only two galleries with an international focus in Stockholm during World War II, Widlund had a sterling international reputation: ‘Widlund’s reputation and her eye for excellence were also vital to her acquisitions, which were extraordinary even in those days’ (Pedro Westerdahl, ‘Modern before Moderna (Museet)’, in Modernt före Moderna, Stockholm, 2013, p. 166).Widlund was renowned in particular for her pioneering championship of French artists, and her celebration of Laurens’ works within Sweden was fundamental in raising awareness of his work in the country. A collaboration between Konstsalongen Samlaren and the Malmö Museum in May 1965 ensured that no fewer than thirty sculptures by Laurens were exhibited to the public. Indeed, so successful was Widlund’s promotion of the sculptor within Sweden that, by the mid-1960s, there were believed to be more works by Laurens located within private collections in Sweden than anywhere else except France. Nu couché à la draperie has remained in the current owner’s possession since it was acquired from Konstsalongen Samlaren in 1959.