Le Repos
by Alexander Archipenko
33.1-Archipenko_Repose-1911-134.7
Alexander Archipenko (Ukrainian-American, 1887–1964), Repose, 1911. Painted plaster, 13½ × 15¼ × 9¾ in. (34.3 × 38.7 × 24.8 cm). Frances Archipenko Gray Collection

The style

Le Repos (Repose) reflects Archipenko’s growing interest in cubism and the simplification of form, inspired by the “archaic” and “primitive” arts of ancient Egypt, Assyria, Greece, and Africa. [1] While his Cubist contemporary Pablo Picasso often reconfigured his subjects by breaking down solid forms into interlocking, angular planes, Archipenko maintained the wholeness of the human body, choosing to exaggerate, rather than fragment, his figures’ anatomy.

Influenced by Matisse?

Archipenko’s interpretation of the traditional motif of the reclining female nude mirrored another noteworthy work at the Armory Show, Henri Matisse’s Blue Nude (1907). [2] Their common pose of a reclining figure with one arm overhead speaks to the prevalence of the motif in the work of avant-garde artists, who frequently used the female body as a pretext for formal experimentation.

At the Armory Show

Le Repos was one of four plasters Archipenko lent to the Armory Show. It was reproduced and sold in postcard form, and traveled to the exhibition’s Chicago and Boston venues. When the work was exhibited in Chicago, a group of women discovered a sketch that Archipenko had incised on the back of the sculpture of two interlocking lovers. [3] Calling it “lewd,” the women threatened to report the work to the police. [4]

The response

Archipenko’s radical modifications of the human form led James Pattison of the Fine Arts Journal to condemn Le Repos (Repose) as the ugliest work at the Armory Show, describing it as “much overfleshed, her pose makes a tortured twist, her too-small head tucked under her arm….” [5] Pattison acknowledged that the work as “original, and a protest,” although it was an originality that he condemned, seeing disfiguration rather than innovation.

[1] Katherine Jánszky Michaelsen and Nehama Guralnik, Alexander Archipenko: A Centennial Tribute, exh. cat. (Washington, D.C.: National Gallery of Art, 1986), 20-21.

[2] Jaroslaw Leshko, Alexander Archipenko: Vision and Continuity, exh. cat. (New York: The Ukrainian Museum, 2005), 50.

[3] Leshko has proposed that two figures in Matisse’s Le Bonheur de vivre (1905-06) may have inspired the sketch of interlocking lovers incised by the artist on the back of Le Repos (Repose). See ibid., 50.

[4] Milton Brown, The Story of the Armory Show, 2nd ed. (New York: Abbeville Press, 1988), 206.

[5] James W. Pattison, “Art in an Unknown Tongue,” Fine Arts Journal 27-29 (May 1913): 300.

Alexander Archipenko (1887-1964)

The Ukranian-born sculptor Alexander Archipenko moved from Moscow to Paris in 1908 and became a key member of the Cubist circle that developed around the Duchamp brothers, attending their Sunday artists gatherings in the Parisian suburb of Puteaux. [1] After Pablo Picasso, Archipenko was the first artist to apply the tenets of Cubism to sculpture, using faceted planes to render human form. He exhibited regularly in Paris at the Salon des Independents and the Salon d’Automme, and had his first solo exhibition in 1912 in Germany.

In 1912 the Armory Show co-organizer Walter Pach visited Archipenko’s studio and selected four plasters and five drawings for the exhibition. The Armory Show was the artist’s first opportunity to exhibit in America and although his works were shown in New York, Chicago, and Boston, none of his sculptures sold from the exhibition. However, Alfred Stieglitz, who likely recognized this unique occasion to purchase the artist’s work, acquired all five drawings. [2]

In 1963 Archipenko referred to the sculptures he had lent to the Armory Show as “conservative,” but this retrospective assessment was likely influenced by the sculptural innovations he introduced into his work in the wake of the exhibition.[3] Beginning in 1914, the artist adopted the void as a positive form, reintroduced color into his work, as well as materials such as sheet metal, plywood, and glass, and developed the hybrid medium of sculpto-painting. [4] While these are among his greatest contributions to twentieth-century sculpture, the earlier works that he displayed at the Armory Show seemed anything but “conservative” to American audiences.

[1] See Jaroslaw Leshko, Alexander Archipenko: Vision and Continuity, exh. cat. (New York: Ukranian Museum, 2005).

[2] Stieglitz paid $135 for all five drawings on March 7, 1913. Milton Brown, The Story of the Armory Show, 2nd ed. (New York: Abbeville Press, 1988), 244.

[3] Quoted in 1913 Armory Show: 50th Anniversary Exhibition, exh. cat. (Utica: Munson Williams Proctor Art Institute, 1963), 93.

[4] Katherine Jánszky Michaelsen and Nehama Guralnik, Alexander Archipenko: A Centennial Tribute, exh. cat. (Washington, D.C.: National Gallery of Art, 1986), 24-25, 45-46.

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