GREENWICH, CT.- The Bruce Museum
announces that it has acquired a major sculpture by the French/American artist Gaston Lachaise (1882-1935), one of the pioneers of modern art in the early decades of the last century. The work depicts Lincoln Kirstein (1907-1996), one of the most dynamic and influential cultural figures of his day, an impresario and author, as well as a great patron of the arts. The sculpture, titled Man Walking (Portrait of Lincoln Kirstein), is one of only two casts in existence (the other was acquired by the Whitney Museum of Art directly from a show held there in 1933-34) and was delivered to Kirstein in July 1934. Lachaise earlier had executed a bust- length portrait of his friend and patron Kirstein, who is credited with having helped inspire the foundation of the Museum of Modern Art and personally organized the retrospective there of Lachaises works that appeared in 1935 - the first monographic show of any American artist at the institution.
Lachaise was trained at the École des Beaux-Arts in his native Paris, before emigrating to the United States in 1906, where he worked with an academic sculptor of military monuments in Boston before entering the studio of the famous New York sculptor Paul Manship. Lachaise developed his own sleek and graceful modernist style, which combined classic monumentality with delightful buoyancy, perhaps best remembered in his well known sculptures of over life-size, full-length representations of sensuous female nudes. His Walking Man is one of six major pieces that he created between 1927 and 1933 depicting standing male nudes. Lachaise also made a specialty of portraiture, depicting many of the leading figures of his day in New Yorks avant garde literary and artistic scene, including Marianne Moore, e.e. cummings, John Marin, Georgia OKeeffe and Alfred Stieglitz.
The subject of the sculpture, Kirstein, was heir of the Filenes department store fortune and had begun promoting contemporary art even as an undergraduate at Harvard. He was an early champion not only of Lachaise and his friends, but also of Isamu Noguchi, Alexander Calder and Buckminster Fuller, and organized the first Bauhaus show in America. His classmate John Walker, later first Director of the National Gallery in Washington, likened Kirsteins uncanny ability to spot talent to a setter pointing out coveys of genius. One of his greatest discoveries occurred in Europe where he met the Russian dancer and choreographer George Balanchine. Together they established the School of American Ballet, which became the New York City Ballet. In no small measure, Kirstein helped direct the course of dance in America in the 20th century. He wrote extensively on ballet and also produced books on the sculptor Elie Nadelman and the Surrealist artist Pavel Tchelitchew. During the Second World War, Kirstein served as one of the Monuments Men, who helped recover and restitute art works looted by the Nazis. Here in Connecticut, he was also a major producer and benefactor of the Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford.
The pose that Lachaise adopted for his sculpture Man Walking, with the right length extended, resembles a dancer taking his first step on stage, undoubtedly in acknowledgement of Kirsteins devotion to the ballet. It is also derived from a small, ancient Egyptian statuette that he and Kirstein had seen together in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, depicting the god Amun (Amon), king of all the gods of Egypt and patron of the pharaohs.
The pose with single leg extended is familiar to us from many archaic Egyptian and Greek sculptures; it represents the first revolutionary step that breaks with the columnar captivity of stone, freeing the image to move in space. What better pose to simultaneously celebrate ones Maecenas and convey the subjects primal impact on 20th-century culture?