Summary

Seated Woman was made in Paris at a time when Laurens was beginning to move away from the Cubist style which had characterised his work between 1915-18 towards a more classical idiom. This change can be seen as part of the widespread movement among artists working in Paris in the late 1910s and early 1920s, away from the fragmentation of Cubism towards more naturalistic forms. This so-called 'rappel à l'ordre' ('return to order') has often been interpreted in terms of a desire for stability and tradition after the disruption and chaos of the First World War (see On Classic Ground, pp.11-30).

The earthy red gouache and inscribed lines of Seated Woman recall the decoration of ancient Greek and Roman pots. In addition, the pose of the woman is close to that used by Laurens in a series of sculptures of crouching women which allude to the structure of caryatids, pillars in the form of a female figures found in ancient Greek and Roman architecture (see Hofmann, pp.110-32). Laurens' friend Amedeo Modigliani (1884-1920) also made a number of works at this time based on caryatid forms (see Tate T00149 and T03570). Commenting on the renewed authority given to ancient Greek and Roman art by a number of artists working in France and Italy in the 1910s and 20s, the art historian Elizabeth Cowling has argued that 'ever since the Romantic period primitivism had been associated with an avant-garde position - with the idea of purity and authenticity and the escape from the supposed decadence and over-sophistication of the present. The myth of the purity of the primitive has been the great myth of modern times, and indeed all the classical revivals that have occurred from the time of Wincklemann onwards have been intimately bound up with this ideal, for the return to the classical past is conceived as return to origins.' (Cowling, p.25.)

Further Reading:

Werner Hofmann, The Sculpture of Henri Laurens, New York 1970
Henri Laurens 1885-1954, exhibition catalogue, Arts Council of Great Britain, London 1971
Elizabeth Cowling and Jennifer Mundy, On Classic Ground, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1990

Sophie Howarth
August 2000