Ossip Joselyn Zadkine

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Ossip Joselyn Zadkine

Ossip Joselyn Zadkine (1890-1967), a Russian sculptor and teacher, was one of the most adventurous and inventive cubist sculptors.

Ossip Zadkine was born in Smolensk, where his father was a professor of ancient languages. When he was 16, Zadkine went to London to study art. Three years later he went to Paris to study at the École des Beaux-Arts, but, disenchanted with its rigidly academic approach, he left and opened his own studio. He served in the French army during World War I.

Zadkine's first one-man show took place in Brussels in 1919. The following year he married, and in 1921 he became a French citizen. By 1924 he had acquired an international reputation. In 1932 he received an important commission to carve relief panels for public buildings in Poissy, Paris, and Brussels.

Zadkine lived in New York City from 1941 to 1945, teaching at the Art Students' League. He participated in the influential 1942 Artists in Exile exhibition. On his return to Paris he established a studio and took students. In 1947 Zadkine received one of his most important commissions: the city of Rotterdam ordered a monument to commemorate its near destruction by the Germans during World War II. His memorial, For a Devastated City, completed and installed in 1953, depicts an agonized, mutilated giant whose abstracted limbs bend and quake, suggesting the extremes of inner torment and physical pain. In 1950 he received the Grand Prize at the Venice Biennale.

In 1962 Zadkine gave a series of lectures at the École des Beaux-Arts. Just a week before his death in Paris, a large retrospective exhibition of his sculpture opened at the Bibliothe‧que Nationale.

The early sculpture of Zadkine reveals his great admiration for the expressive power of primitive art; he adapted its boldness, formality, and stark simplicity to his own work. In his cubist sculptures, he translated the abstract character of cubist painting into shifting flat planes, angularity, and contrasts of convex and concave areas, as in Mother and Child (ca. 1920). Much of his art after 1930 contains neoclassic elements. Many pieces recall the art of Giorgio de Chirico, but Zadkine's figures are usually more frenetic. He favored nervous contours and surprising syncopations. He was given to hollowing out limbs of figures and to inscribing features by drawing them on a flat or gently curved surface rather than modeling them in the round.

Zadkine's work is novel, distinctive, and full of derringdo, but its fundamental eclectic character deprives it of force. His late work employs the formal language of the earlier sculpture, but it is more complex, elaborate, and virtuosic.

Further Reading

lonel Jianou, Zadkine (1964), which contains a good selection of fine plates, is scholarly and yet readable. Abraham M. Hammacher, Zadkine (1959), is also recommended. Zadkine is discussed in two excellent histories of modern sculpture: Michel Seuphor, Sculpture of This Century (1960), and Abraham M. Hammacher, The Evolution of Modern Sculpture (1969). □