Storm Man is a large bronze sculpture of a naked male figure presented on a thin rectangular base. The man has a broad physique, with a large belly and a wide, deep navel. He is standing upright and the position of his legs – one is bent at the knee and separated from the other – suggests that he is walking or poised to step forward. His hands are by his sides, with his fingers spread wide, and his arms are tensed and thrust slightly forward. The bronze is heavily textured and some parts of the man’s body, including the head, left arm and left leg, have particularly uneven surfaces and contain large pits as if to suggest that the flesh is disintegrating. His hair and facial features are loosely rendered by means of rough indents and thick, undefined lumps of bronze. The base also has a rough layer of bronze across most of its surface that gives it an earthy quality.
The work was completed in Paris in 1948 by the French artist Germaine Richier, and this cast was made posthumously in 1995. The model for the sculpture was an eighty-year-old man named Nardone who had also posed for several sculptures by the renowned French artist Auguste Rodin (1840–1917) around the beginning of the twentieth century. The art historian Sarah Wilson has written that Richier’s use of Nardone as a model formed part of the artist’s frequent engagement with the history of sculpture:
Richier’s work deliberately set up dialogues with masters of the past … Nearer her own time she placed herself deliberately in the tradition of Rodin and the traditions of the monumental bronze, not only through her training and choice of foundries, but even through the use of Rodin’s model, Nardone, for her masterpiece L’Orage (Storm Man).
(Wilson 2005, p.54.)
The stance of the figure, which conveys the sense that he is about to step forward, is also characteristic of Rodin’s work. However, the man’s weathered flesh and distended belly indicates the historical distance separating Richier from Rodin, as the latter had sculpted Nardone while the model was young and slim.
The title of this sculpture draws connections between the appearance of the man and the conditions of a storm, as though the deformation of his face and the left side of his body are caused by the pressure of wind pummelling or even flaying his skin. His tensed, pointed fingers also give the impression that it is extremely difficult for the man to walk forwards, despite his strong build, and his mutilated face and scarred, pitted flesh also convey a sense of pain and struggle. Alternatively, the title may suggest that the man is himself a representation of a storm, as is invoked by the compressed energy of his powerful stance and the dark, saturated appearance of his skin.
Richier’s sculptures often present the human body in various states of degradation. It has been suggested that this approach to figuration was influenced by existentialist philosophy, which was popular in France after the Second World War and informed the work of several other sculptors, including Alberto Giacometti (see Tate Gallery 1993). The art historian Mark Daniel Cohen has compared Richier’s work to that of Giacometti, particularly with regard to the anxiety displayed by the ‘scabrous, diseased, beaten away metal forms’ of her sculptures (Mark Daniel Cohen, ‘Germaine Richier’, in Richard Kostelanetz, A Dictionary of the Avant-Gardes, New York and London 2001, p.512).
After completing Storm Man, Richier began work on a sculpture called Hurricane Woman 1948–9 (Tate T07014), which serves as a female counterpart to this work. As with Storm Man, the figure in Hurricane Woman stands upright, with tensed muscles and flesh that is distorted and scarred. However the face of Hurricane Woman is rendered in more detail than that of Storm Man, and her body, though strained, appears stationary. In 1956, three years before her death, Richier created Le Tombeau de l’orage and L'Ombre de l’ouragane (both Musée Picasso, Antibes), two tombstones that are designed for Storm Man and Hurricane Woman respectively. These tombstones contrast formally with the figurative bronze sculptures in that they are comprised of more abstract, geometric forms and are carved from stone.
Jean Cassou, Germaine Richier, Paris 1961, reproduced no.1, unpaginated.
Paris Post War: Art and Existentialism, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1993, pp.161–2, reproduced p.164.
Sarah Wilson, ‘Germaine Richier, Disquieting Matriarch’, Sculpture Journal, vol.14, December 2005, pp.51–2, 57, 59, 68, reproduced p.52.
Supported by Christie’s.