T02242 Model for the Statue of Aphrodite in the Ballet 'La Chatte' 1927
Plastic, 5 7/8 x 1 3/4 x 2 (15 x 4.5 x 5)
Presented by Mrs Miriam Gabo 1977
Prov: Naum Gabo, Middlebury, Conn.; Mrs Miriam Gabo, Middlebury
This small sculpture, the model for the statue of the goddess Aphrodite in the background of the ballet La Chatte, was found in a drawer in Naum Gabo's house shortly after his death, and was assumed at first to be by him. However the set for La Chatte was designed in collaboration with Pevsner [see T04146], and Gabo is on record as stating that this figure was the one part he did not make himself: 'The process of working was this; the model of the stage-setting and all the costumes, designs, and accessories presented to Diaghilev, with the exception of the statue of the goddess, were designed and made by Gabo. In this first model of the setting the place was left empty and this statue was done by Pevsner. I refused to make any naturalistic sculpture for the ballet as at that time I had already left behind me the period of figurative art and had no wish to return to it.' (From a statement published in Herbert Read and Leslie Martin, Gabo: Constructions, Sculpture, Paintings, Drawings, Engravings, London 1957, between pls.38 and 39). That it is by Pevsner, and not by Gabo, is borne out by its symmetry and highly idiosyncratic construction which are characteristic of Pevsner's work at this period. For instance, the treatment of the pelvis and bottom section can be compared with Pevsner's 'Fountain' of 1925 (the resemblance is particularly striking in profile), and the head and shoulders with his 'Dancer' of 1927-9.
The ballet La Chatte, with choreography by Balanchine and music by Sauguet, was commissioned for Diaghilev's company and received its first performance at Monte Carlo on 30 April 1927. The subject is based on an Aesop fable about a young man who fell in love with his cat, and prayed Aphrodite to change her into a woman. But Aphrodite, having done this, decided to test her by making a mouse appear, whereupon she immediately left her lover and gave chase. She was therefore turned back into a cat; and the young man expired from disappointment.
The statue of Aphrodite was placed in a raised position in the centre of the stage and was surrounded by various completely abstract structures in transparent plastic. They were all set against a background of black American cloth and dramatically lit.
Ronald Alley, Catalogue of the Tate Gallery's Collection of Modern Art other than Works by British Artists, Tate Gallery and Sotheby Parke-Bernet, London 1981, pp.586-7, reproduced p.587