Jean Arp (Hans Arp)

Impish Fruit


Original title
Fruit de lutin
Object: 298 x 210 x 28 mm
Presented by Mr and Mrs Robert Lewin through the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1987

Display caption

The irregularly rounded shapes of this relief suggest the forms of natural, growing things. This association is emphasised by the title. Arp saw the relentless growth in nature as an indication of spontaneity and intuition that the artist should emulate. He saw these qualities as necessary antidotes to the rationalism of the modern world. Using forms that had denoted a body in an earlier work, he inverted them so that the legs became the impish ears of a new creature.

Gallery label, December 2005

Catalogue entry

T05006 Impish Fruit 1943 (Fruit de lutin)

Walnut relief 298 × 210 × 28 (11 3/4 × 8 1/4 × 1 1/8)
Inscribed ‘Arp’ on label, removed by Conservation and preserved separately
Presented by Mr and Mrs Robert Lewin through the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1987
Prov: Given by the artist to Helen Burchkardt, Switzerland c. 1949; sold by auction Kornfeld und Klipstein, Bern, June 1965 (cat. no.14) to Felix Landau, California, acting on behalf of Brook Street Gallery (Robert Lewin)
Lit: Bernd Rau, Hans Arp: Die Reliefs. Oeuvre-Katalog, Stuttgart, 1981, no.338c. Also repr: Moderne Kunst, auction no.110, Klipstein and Kornfeld, Bern, 9 May 1963, no.23, plate 38, as ‘Konfiguration’, dated 1941; Moderne Kunst, Kornfeld und Klipstein, Bern, auction no.116, June 1965, no.14, pl.44.

This wall-mounted wooden relief consists of three, irregularly shaped walnut panels. These are joined to one another by screws set in from the back. It is one of an edition of three, which differ from each other only in the natural variations of the woodgrain. The other works of the edition are titled ‘Ears and Small Tail; Two Tails; Goblin Fruit’ (repr. Rau, no.338a, as ‘Oreilles et petite queue; Deux queues; Fruit de lutin’) and ‘Impish Fruit’ (Rau, no.338b, as ‘Fruit de lutin’ or ‘Frucht eines Dämons’). Affixed to the backs of all three are typed labels, which state the works' titles and date, and bear the artist's signature.

T05006 was offered for sale by the auction house Klipstein and Kornfeld in 1963. Very little information was then known about the work, which was described in the catalogue simply as ‘Configuration’. It failed to sell, and, according to Christine Stauffer of the Galerie Kornfeld, Bern, the auction house ‘showed the relief to the artist, who [provided] the label on the reverse, with his signature, exact title and the numbering’ before representing it for sale in 1965 (letter to the compiler, dated 13 February 1992). In the early 1960s Arp, together with his second wife, Marguerite Hagenbach-Arp, collected information about his reliefs, with a view to publishing a catalogue raisonné, and regularly made attributions of date and title to early works.

In form and size T05006 can be seen as related to the only other unpainted wooden relief executed in that year, ‘Superimposed Leaves’ (Rau, no.339a and 339b), as well as to ‘Of Two Reigns; Fish-Cloud’ and ‘Title Unknown’ (Rau, nos.336 and 337) of 1942. Arp and his first wife Sophie Taeuber-Arp had spent the early years of the war in the unoccupied zone in the south of France. Hoping to emigrate to America, they travelled to Switzerland in late 1942. However, Sophie Taeuber-Arp died in a tragic accident on 13 January 1943. Distraught, Arp made only a small number of painted reliefs that year, of which ‘Constellation of a Despairing Man’ (Rau, no.340) is said to be the first, and ‘Vegetable Architecture for a Dead Woman’ (Rau, no.341), the second. Given the intensity of Arp's grief and his subsequent preoccupation with themes of life and death, it seems likely that T05006 was executed either at the very beginning of 1943 (and should therefore be seen as related to the above-mentioned works of 1942) or very much later in that year. Arp remained in Switzerland until the end of the war.

The shapes of the three wooden pieces that make up T05006 are closely based on a woodcut executed in 1930 (repr. Wilhelm Arntz, Hans (Jean) Arp: Das Graphische Werk 1912–1966, Haag, 1988, no.93, as ‘Configuration’). In this print, which measures 149 × 150 mm (and is therefore smaller than the relief), the image is the other way up. The outer and inner shapes are printed black, in contrast to the internal or middle shape (corresponding to the intermediate-sized piece in the relief). Arp had brought with him to Switzerland unprinted woodcut blocks, dating from the previous twenty-five years, in the hope of having them printed in Zürich (see Arp 1886–1966, exh. cat., Minneapolis Institute of Arts 1986, p.293). The woodblock for this 1930 print must have been among those he brought with him, as it was used for the programme cover of the ‘Musik-Sommer: Gstaad’ festival, while a copy of the print was shown in the exhibition Moderne Malerei, held in July–August that year at the Palace Hotel, Gstaad. The printing of the woodcut may well have prompted Arp to see new possibilities in the work, leading to the making of a larger and inverted relief version.

Such ‘refiguration’ of an existing work was an important aspect of Arp's working practices. Most of Arp's reliefs are unique, but he sometimes made a variant work which differed not in the shape or placement of the elements but in its colour or overall dimensions. Occasionally, there was a significant lapse of time between the first and second versions of the work. ‘Objects Placed According to the Laws of Chance’, 1936 (Rau, no.295), for example, was remade in 1942 with different colours and slightly different dimensions as ‘Three Constellations Drawn From the Same Shapes’ (Rau, no.333). Arp was able to execute such variant works because he had a stock of pre-cut elements, of which a number were identical, with which to make his reliefs.

T05006 is the only relief to have been based directly upon a much earlier woodcut. In 1951, however, Arp executed sixteen reliefs which were similar to contemporaneous woodcuts, made as illustrations for a volume of his writings, Jean Arp: Dreams and Projects, New York, 1952. Furthermore, many of Arp's reliefs and woodcuts have similar images. Bernd Rau writes:

For all the autonomy of their innovative form and sculptural character, Arp's reliefs have much in common with the other media in which he worked, most notably [...] with his woodcuts. In both relief and woodcut, the proportions and contours of the surfaces are the constitutive formal elements of the design - if Arp's compositions in these two media often seem interchangeable it is largely owing to the relief character of the printing blocks themselves (p.xxxix).

The French title of T05006, ‘Fruit de lutin’ (French, rather than German, was Arp's preferred language in this period) brings together ideas which were central to much of Arp's work. ‘Fruit’ recalls Arp's much quoted statement in ‘A propos d'art abstrait’, published in the leading avant-garde art magazine, Cahiers d'Art, (Paris, vol.6, nos.7–8, p.357) in 1931. Characteristically avoiding the upper case and most punctuation, he wrote:

art is a fruit growing out of man like the fruit out of a plant like the child out of the mother. while the fruit of the plant grows independent forms and never resembles a balloon or a president in a cut-away suit the artistic fruit of man shows for the most part a ridiculous resemblance to the appearance of things.

Here he was using the idea of ‘fruit’ metaphorically, but critics soon picked up upon the resemblance of his rounded shapes to natural forms, and he himself drew attention to this aspect of his work, with titles such as, ‘Fruit of a Hand’, c. 1928–31, ‘Pagoda Fruit’, 1933–4, ‘Naughty Fruit’, 1936, ‘Giant Seed’, 1936 and ‘Crown of Buds’, 1936.

‘Lutin’, meaning ‘imp’, was another potent and recurring theme in Arp's work. ‘Lutin’ was used in the title of a work by Arp in an important sculpture of 1930, ‘Tête de lutin, dite “Kaspar”’, (repr. Margherita Andreotti, The Early Sculpture of Jean Arp, Michigan, 1989, no.15, fig.61, as ‘Gnome, called “Kaspar”’, original plaster in coll., U.C.L.A. Art Gallery, Los Angeles), which formed the inspiration of a number of subsequent works. The work of 1930 suggests a head wearing a pointed hat, which explains in part the allusion in the title to a gnome or imp. This sculpture should possibly be be regarded as a self-portrait. In 1930 Michel Leiris wrote that Arp ‘amuses himself with the world like an imp (‘lutin’) escaped from the forest’ (‘Exposition Hans Arp (Galerie Goemans)’, Documents, Paris, vol.1, no.6, p.340), and it seems likely that this comparison of Arp to a ‘lutin’ either inspired the sculpture or reflected a conversation between Leiris and Arp, who was well known to have an irreverent or ‘impish’ side to his character. The work's alternative title ‘kaspar’ relates to a poem ‘kaspar is dead’ that Arp wrote in 1912, and frequently revised, even as late as 1953. Andreotti writes that the sculpture embodies many of the traits associated with ‘kaspar’ in the poem, ‘qualities of childlike mischief, innocence, imagination, and harmony with nature and the universe’ (p.172).

Unexpected combinations of words and ideas frequently occur in Arp's titles, reinforcing the allusive character of his work. With its suggestions of ‘legs’ and a ‘torso’, the woodcut may have suggested to him the idea of an animate presence, but the shapes of the relief do not seem particularly related to either an ‘imp’ or ‘fruit’. It seems probable that the title simply invites the viewer to see the work as the natural product of an ‘impish’ Arp.

Arp gave T05006 as a present to Helen Burckhardt c. 1949. In a letter to the compiler dated 1st April 1992, she writes, ‘I knew Jean Arp well. From 1946 to 1950 I used to go to Meudon daily from Paris where I lived. He lived alone since Sophie Taeuber-Arp had died and I acted as secretary, cook and friend.’ She did not recall the work ever having an alternative title: ‘I think [Arp] always thought of this work as ‘Fruit de lutin’. It is a title somehow typical of him’ (letter to the compiler, dated 30 April 1992). When she emigrated to the United States in 1950, she left the relief with her brother in Basel, whom she subsequently asked to sell the work on her behalf. In a letter dated 24 July 1992, Greta Ströh of the Fondation Arp at Clamart-Meudon wrote that she believed that the other two reliefs in the edition were given by Arp as presents to the Dada artist and film director Hans Richter (Rau 1981, no.338a) and to Robert Valançay (ibid., no.338b), both close friends of the artist.

Published in:
Tate Gallery: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions 1986-88, London 1996