Ossip Zadkine

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Ossip Zadkine, 1914
photo of Ossip Zadkine and Willem Sandberg, 1965

Ossip Zadkine (July 4, 1890 – November 25, 1967) was a Russian-born sculptor-artist who lived mainly in France where he was at first working in a Cubist idiom from 1914 to 1925. Later Zadkine developed his characteristic style, strongly influenced by African and Greek art.

Quotes[edit]

Zadkine, 1929: 'Sundial', bronze sculpture; location: Museum de Fundatie, castle Heino Netherlands
Zadkine, c.1930's-1940's: 'Prometheus', wooden sculpture
Zadkine, 1943: 'Die Gefangenen / The prisoners', bronze sculpture; this cast of 1958 is located on the Westfriedhof, Cologne, Germany
Zadkine, 1948: 'Large Orpeus / Orphée' (large variation, made shortly after World War II), bronze sculpture; location: Sculpture Museum Park, Marl, Germany - quote of Zadkine, c. 1960: 'But Orpheus has always haunted me, and I am not so sure I've exorcised his spell on me. For all I know, I may yet be tempted to try a sixth or a seventh 'Orpheus' in years to come. Besides the scale of each figure makes it necessary to conceive it differently'
Zadkine, 1953: 'Destroyed City / De verwoeste Stad', bronze sculpture; current location, city Rotterdam, Netherlands - quote of Zadkine, c. 1956: '..a cry of horror against the inhuman brutality of this act of tyranny [the bombing of the city-heart of Rotterdam by the German air-force, 14 May 1940] [1]
Zadkine, 1957-58: 'The Messenger', bronze sculpture
Zadkine, undated: detail of 'The Messenger', bronze sculpture
Zadkine, 1961: 'Lotophage', bronze sculpture; (title is referring to Lotus-eaters)
Zadkine, 1963-64: 'Vincent & Theo van Gogh', bronze sculpture; location: Zundert, Netherlands - quote of Zadkine on this sculpture: '..in which the two brothers [Van Gogh] are not only standing, but where the bond – the main idea is projected onto the statue in a hollow; in the heart of the composition the viewer can see a knot of hands, a symbol of the double inspiration'
Zadkine, 1963-64: 'La demeure humaine', bronze sculpture; current location; aside from the Dutch Bank building, Amsterdam
  • ..I write you from the French front where I'am serving as a soldier in the Russian ambulance Corps. How are you feeling and what are you doing? How are your friends, Lissitsky, Libakov [also former students of Pen], Mazel, Mekler, and Chagall? Please, for God's sake, answer me. I would be so glad to hear how everyone is.
    I'm in fine health, but tired of it all – it's utterly disgraceful, makes the soul turn cold. If only it [the war] would just end.
    What are you working on, what are you doing? Please write me. – Yours Zadkine.
    • Quote in a letter of Zadkine (in France) to his former art-teacher Yuri Moiseevich Pen in Vitebsk, Russia, 16 Nov. 1916 (transl. into Belorussian E.M. Kichina); as quoted in Vitebsk: The Life of Art, by Aleksandra Semenovna Shatskikh; Yale University Press, 2007, p. 19
  • At heart, I have always been a carpenter, who, instead of making a table or a door, was led to carve images in wood.
    • as quoted in 'Wooden Sculptures', Musée Zadkine
    • Musée Zadkine: it was through wood that Zadkine came to sculpture, after being initiated in the techniques of carving by a maternal uncle.

1940s[edit]

  • Whatever the apparent aim of the artist, he is called upon first to move the spectator, after having been himself struck by a design or color composition which may or may not have a relation to natural objects. His predilections, his preferences, crystallize afterwards in the choice of means to interpret those natural objects; these means are always, obligingly, of imaginary essence.
    • New York, early 1944; as cited in: Artists on Art – from the 14th – 20th centuries, ed. Robert Goldwater and Marco Treves; Pantheon Books, 1972, London, p. 429
  • In my own researches and findings I have always insisted on plastic and sculptural values, and also on what I call a poetic climate. The object, whether it is a book, a bottle, or a human body, once it is visualized and expressed by means of clay, stone, or wood, ceases to be a document and becomes an animated object in stone, wood, or bronze and lives its independent life..
    • New York, early 1944; as cited in: Artists on Art – from the 14th – 20th centuries, ed. Robert Goldwater and Marco Treves; Pantheon Books, 1972, London, p. 430
  • I do not believe that art must develop on national lines, but I am convinced that there never was and never will be an international art. There is and was French, German, Italian, and Flemish art. But I deny those specific definitions so fashionable with adepts of fascism which make of every country an hermetic cell from which all foreign artists are excluded. [shortly after the end of the German occupation]
    • New York, early 1944; as cited in: Artists on Art – from the 14th – 20th centuries, ed. Robert Goldwater and Marco Treves; Pantheon Books, 1972, London, p. 430

1950s[edit]

  • A cry of horror against the inhuman brutality of this act of tyranny.
    • c. 1953; as cited by M.G. Schenk, in Ossip Zadkine', Amsterdam 1967; as quoted in Sculpture International Rotterdam - 'The Destroyed City'
    • According to Zadkine the idea for his sculpture 'The Destroyed City' was born when he arrived by train in the devastated city of Rotterdam in 1946/47, and saw the destroyed heart of the city because of the bombings by the German air-force, 14 May 1940
  • In October 1945 I returned from America, where I had stayed during the war. I arrived in Le Havre, full of ruins, a carcass of a city. It took one night to reach Paris on a train with no windows. That night I got the idea for the monument. I sketched it on paper and forgot about it, until I visited Rotterdam for the first time in 1947. I saw a city without a heart. I saw a crater in the body of a city. And I remembered that night, the sketches. I made a small terracotta model and sent it to an exhibition of French art in Germany.
    • interview in 'Het Vrije Volk', (Dutch newspaper), 4 July 1950; as cited in 'Unveiling of the Dutch City
    • Ossip Zadkine explained in 1950 the genesis of his large bronze sculpture 'Destroyed City', commissioned by the city Rotterdam
  • How should one approach the person of van Gogh in order to be able to build a statue of him? How can one place him outside of himself, separate him from the tragic character of his life? How can one build a statue in the open air which simultaneously evokes the rare and the new person who was van Gogh, as also the enormity of the new aspect of the current and future art of painting?
    • 'Le Maillet et le Ciseau', (early 1956); as quoted in Zadkine and Van Gogh, ed. Garance Schabert and Ron Dirven (transl. Anne Porcelijn), Vincent van Goghhuis, Zundert & Scriptum Art, Schiedam 2008, p.29
  • Arms, hands [of the two van Gogh brothers, Vincent and Theo], like rifles, thrust out like non-stop ideas thoughts. Enormous thick veins like the ropes of a ship through which flow thoughts and inspirational excitement. They join the two brothers like nerve connections that pass from one body to the other, channeling the waves and opening up both in a magnetic ring of work and passion.
    • c. 1955; as quoted in: Zadkine and Van Gogh, ed. Garance Schabert and Ron Dirven (transl. Anne Porcelijn), Vincent van Goghhuis, Zundert & Scriptum Art, Schiedam 2008, p. 64

'Les frères Van Gogh, origine et justification', c. 1955[edit]

'Les frères Van Gogh, origine et justification', c. 1955, Ossip Zadkine; as cited in Zadkine and Van Gogh, ed. Garance Schabert and Ron Dirven (transl. Anne Porcelijn), Vincent van Goghhuis, Zundert & Scriptum Art, Schiedam 2008
  • I repeatedly told myself that the life of Vincent van Gogh and his colossal oeuvre – are not an individual outburst but a special and rare occurrence based on the special bond between the two brothers, only broken by Vincent's suicide.
    • p. 66
  • ..the bond is then shown to be a sort of identity of thought, of reaction to the endless small changes, taking place in one brother and immediately passed on to the other, because feeding an idea was always a double barrel, and was eventually enforced after the echo had passed between the two [brothers Van Gogh].
    • p. 66
  • This exchange – mainly in the form of letters [between the brothers van Gogh] – was not only about painting and art, but covered everything to do with one's existence and the philosophical or religious colouring, in a word: for the reader of the letters written by Vincent to his brother a total of human behaviour is revealed that of the dual being of van Gogh. This is how my first wish and then obsession was started, to build a monument for the two van Gogh brothers.
    • pp. 67-69
  • Firstly for the design I decided that the two joined figures should be depicted upright [in Zadkine's first attempt the two brothers were sitting shoulder to shoulder].. ..two or three days later I was able to send him a photo of my new attempt, in which the two brothers are not only standing, but where the bond – the main idea is projected onto the statue in a hollow, in the heart of the composition the viewer can see a knot of hands, a symbol of the double inspiration.
    • pp. 67-69

1960s[edit]

  • We lived in a large wooden house, with one room succeeding another [Zadkine, recalling in this quote his childhood's days in Smolensk, Russia]. The house was at the end of a blind alley. On one side were a beautiful garden and an orchard. In the summer there was an atmosphere of fragrance and peace. A large room with three windows looked out into the courtyard. Bookshelves along the walls with books and more books; a black table and six ugly Viennese chairs, also black, and in the center of the bare, inhospitable table, a sort of vase in coloured plaster representing a hand holding a goblet. It was the only piece of sculpture in the house!
  • .My materials often dictate my change of aims, and I choose to work in a different material much as a man may suddenly feel an appetite for a change of diet. After a steady diet of moulding plaster models for bronzes, I enjoy returning to a discipline of carving stone or wood, and the wood or the stone Inevitably suggests to me a shift of principles or of aims.
  • In every human being, there are dormant memories which suddenly rise to the surface of the conscious mind. Niobe, for instance, developed out of one of my most remote childhood recollections. A cholera epidemic had broken out in the Smolensk area, and there were many casualties. One day, on the top of a hill, I saw a giant of a peasant with arms raised toward the sky crying out his grief at having lost his children. From this image, which emerged from my subconscious mind many years later, came the statue of Niobe.
  • The image of the city and the obliterated streets of Rotterdam haunted me. When I returned to Paris, I made a draft model for a statue in clay which attempted to express the combination of confusion and horror.. ..to stimulate emotion in the onlooker, to exude something which captivates the spectator, which opens up to them an unsuspected pathway in their own soul.
    • 'Memoirs', 1967; as cited in 'Torso of the Destroyed City', Musée Zadkine
    • Zadkine recounts the violence of the impressions which he felt then; the first draft for a monument to the 'Destroyed City', was broken in transport. A new version of a 'projected monument for a bombed city' was produced in 1947

Dialogues – conversations with.., quotes, c. 1960[edit]

Dialogues – conversations with European Artists at Mid-century, ed. Edouard Roditi, Lund Humphries Publishers Ltd, London, 1990

  • The sculptors of the cathedral porches of the Middle Ages already knew that we can identify many legendary figures by their attributes, not their physical appearance. How is one to recognize Orpheus without his lyre, or Saint Lawrence without his grid? At the same time it seems a bit absurd, In an art that claims to be realistic, to have Orpheus always carrying his lyre, like a German businessman his briefcase. There must have been moments when Orpheus and Saint Lawrence left their lyre or their grid at the checkroom, for instance.. [c. 1960, in France]
    • p. 153
  • As a matter of fact, these attributes are their fate, no longer separate objects they can carry.. ..part of their actual presence. I try to signify this by reorganizing the objective form of such a legendary figure so as to create an allegorical form that is complete in itself, no longer requiring an attribute that must be carried like the German businessman’s briefcase; the lyre becomes part of the poet's presence, its text written all over his body, as if tattooed on his skin. [quote, c. 1960, in France]
    • p. 153
  • It is in a sculptor's interest that there should exist a close relationship between his art and that of the poet. Otherwise, his sculpture may lack human or emotional content and become too strictly architectural. We sculptors pay a heavy price for the limited freedom that we enjoy as a result of our being able to create in three dimensions; we must sacrifice color and whole realms of subject matter, such as landscape, that scarcely lend themselves to a representation in three dimensions. [c. 1960, in France]
    • p. 153
  • Because the scope of the sculptor's subject remains so limited, we must be careful to concentrate as much meaning or emotion as possible in the few forms that remain at our disposal. [c. 1960]
    • p. 153
  • Were I to concentrate exclusively on the body of Prometheus, I would be seriously limiting the scope of my rendering of the demigod; but because I concentrate also on the myth of Prometheus, on all that the great poets have written about him, I expand the meaning of the demigod's physical form and try to communicate.. ..the basic message of the legend of Prometheus, who stole fire from the gods and taught man to cook his foods, to smelt metal ore and to forge his tools and weapons. [c. 1960]
    • pp. 153-154
  • But a sculpture which sets out to achieve the same ends demands an almost unbelievable effort of concentration. Practically none of the episodes or moments of such a legend, [of Prometheus ] really lends itself to sculpture, and the sculptors of the nineteenth century were often quite careless or foolish in the choice of the moment which they set out to represent. Their works could thus become cluttered with all sorts of narrative details which detract from the monumental quality of the whole.. .That's why, in my 'Prometheus', I represent the fire as an integral part of the presence or appearance of the hero; he stands there before us in all his awe-inspiring grandeur, a human figure that seemed in the eyes of the men who first saw him to be actually consumed by the fire that he was bearing. [c. 1960]
    • p. 154
  • I alternate my aims; at one time, I concentrate on poetry, on a more expressionist kind of sculpture; at other times on form – I mean on a kind of sculpture that concerns itself with formal relations rather than emotions or ideas. I suppose that this principle of alternating my aims leads to a kind of oscillation in the evolution of my own particular style as a sculptor, but I feel that it prevents me from repeating myself. [c. 1960]
    • p. 154
  • Fortunately, a sculptor's style and aim are, to a great extent, dictated to him by his materials. To make a sculpture seem at all moving or inspiring, an artist must, of course, be gifted with a certain personality that speaks movingly through the subject and materials of his work. But he must select appropriate materials, and use them appropriately, too.. .My materials often dictate my change of aims, and I choose to work in a different material much as a man may suddenly feel an appetite for a change in diet. [c. 1960]
    • pp. 154-155
  • At first, I thought I had found in this second figure [a bronze Orpheus, Zadkine made shortly after his return from New York to Paris, in 1944] the perfect solution, but a surprise awaited me. One day my coal merchant delivered to me, here in my studio, some wood for heating; among these logs I found a rudimentary but completely mysterious wooden figure of a man. He seemed to be walking in great strides, his torso suggested by only two simple boards which, in their structure, were very much like an ancient lyre. I immediately began working on a new 'Orpheus', in which the [music-]instrument had truly become part of the man. [c. 1960]
    • pp. 154-155
  • But Orpheus has always haunted me, and I am not so sure I've exorcised his spell on me. For all I know, I may yet be tempted to try a sixth or a seventh 'Orpheus' in years to come. Besides the scale of each figure makes it necessary to conceive it differently. [c. 1960]
    • p. 155
  • My huge monument to the bombing of Rotterdam [in 1940, by the German aircraft], for instance, was the third and final version of this figure. Once the model had been accepted in principle and the scale agreed on, I began working on a new version of it, conceiving it to a great extent in terms of the effects of the changes of lighting in which such a monument would been seen in the open air. [c. 1960]
    • the name of the monument is ('Destroyed City', 1953), in Dutch language: in Dutch: 'De verwoeste Stad']
    • p. 155

Plastic Language, Ossip Zadkine[edit]

Plastic Language, Ossip Zadkine; published online by the Zadkine Research Center

  • The composition, harmonies and proportions of those 'intended shapes' is the great and most difficult problem which the modern sculptor attacks, for sculpture is only forms, only spaces embraced by lines which demonstrate them. The secrets of a never dying piece of sculpture is to be had only by undergoing experience.
  • The mysterious musicality, the organic intermarriage of its forms convex and concave, the high singing phrase of a straight line bordering a plane and its sudden dropping into a scarcely traceable curve, and feel deeply, sharply, the profound peace, the philosophy awakened by the even distribution of light and shade, wandering from one curved plane into a deep clarity of light, enriching a carefully carved stone plane. One will understand at once that those awakened sensation have nothing to do with anatomical considerations, exactitudes observed or not.
  • The spectator of a sculpture, modern or ancient, is not called to examine his own or the sculptor's knowledge of anatomy but to participations, so to say, a participation where the motions which have strangulated the carver, while working, must operate the same mysterious attraction and inexpressible miracle of forms and lines, its dramaticism, its graphic tragedy, or its smiling gaiety and happiness: its words carved out of forms and sown with lines into phrases of philosophy, religion.

Quotes about Ossip Zadkine[edit]

  • For him [Zadkine] the tree was Nature to such a point that he mistrusted his own reactions. He told me, when we were in Cortina, what had happened to him when he had sculpted a nude in a large tree trunk, 'One day, the tree burst just at the place of the heart of the figure and then a mushroom grew out of this very place, like an offering.' I almost think he believed in the suffering of a cut down tree just as some primitives of Oceania identify themselves with the tree from which they hollow a canoe.
    • 'In memory of Zadkine', Jean Bouret, 1970, as quoted in the 'Preface' (exerpt) of the exhibition catalogue Hirschl and Adler Galleries, 1971
  • Zadkine was a man filled with deep impulses and that is what made him so endearing and also so vulnerable. While he was working on the Van Gogh monument [sculpture of Vincent & Theo van Gogh, 1964], he re-read to me a letter from the painter, and I saw the tears which came to his eyes at this reading. He quoted to me then, as though to excuse himself for this tenderness, the words of w:Stefan Zweig: 'If I were God, I would take pity on the hearts of men.'
    • Jean Bouret, in 'In memory of Zadkine', 1970, as cited in the 'Preface' (exerpt) of the exhibition catalogue Hirschl and Adler Galleries, 1971

External links[edit]

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