Catalogue entry

T01911 FORMS 1936

Inscribed ‘Vézelay 1936’ b.r. and on reverse ‘Paule Vézelay 1936’ and ‘20P Top’
Charcoal on canvas, 28 3/4×21 1/4 (73×54)
Presented by the artist, 1974
Exh: Mostra Colletiva, Galleria del Milione, Milan, March 1938 (no catalogue, repr. as ‘Forme’ in II Milione 58); Paule Vézelay: Retrospective Exhibition of Works 1916–1968, Grosvenor Gallery, London, October–November, 1968 (27, repr.); The Non-Objective World 1924–1939, Galerie Jean Chauvelin, Paris, June 1971 (175) and subsequently Annely Juda Fine Art, London, July–September 1971 and Galleria Milano, Milan, October–November 1971

The following entry is based on information provided by the artist in conversation with the compiler on 14 April 1975 and in several letters.

The artist pointed out that the inscription ‘20P’ refers to the traditional standard French stretcher size: 20 Paysage, which corresponds with the given dimensions. The canvas was primed white when purchased and the drawing carefully fixed on completion.

T01911 was made in the artist's studio at 7 Rue de la Grande Chaumière, Paris, and was probably first entitled ‘Formes’. In retrospect the artist would prefer the title ‘Volumes in Space’ which she considers less vague.

Although the records of the Galerie Jeanne Bucher, Paris, do not provide confirmation, it is likely that the drawing was included in Vézelay's exhibition there in 1937. The group show at the Galleria del Milione comprised works by Arp, Domela, Kandinsky, Magnelli, Seligmann and Taeuber-Arp, and other drawings by Vézelay. This drawing does not appear to have been exhibited in her Lefevre Gallery exhibition of 1942, but there is a possibility of its having had an alternative title, and due to the similarity of titles it has become difficult to identify works in retrospect.

The artist wrote that her first recorded drawing on canvas was 'Circus 1927 (pastel); another ‘Femme Fachée’ 1930 (watercolour and pencil) was followed in 1934 by ‘Souvenir of a Museum’ (charcoal, 92×73 cm.). The latter drawing, inspired by a visit to the British Museum, was executed in a style similar to T01911 and also incorporates related forms in its catalogue-like format. These forms, especially the ‘linked spheres’ shape, and their variations began to appear from the time of Vézelay's move into abstraction in and about 1928, and have been repeated in paintings, drawings, constructions and collages at different times throughout her career. However, this form does not occur in her sculpture and according to the artist, does not occur more frequently than other forms, such as circles, ovals and triangles which she has used for the same time. With particular reference to ‘Souvenir of a Museum’ and T01911 Vézelay stated: ‘I am sure the forms in my non-figurative works are invented forms and do not have their origins in natural forms.’

She also described her interest in both the ‘linked spheres’ shape and her choice of medium for the drawing: ‘This form pleases me as a static form. Yet it can be modified slightly and so give movement in any direction, if desired in a composition... The reason for making a drawing on canvas is that it seems to me that charcoal or pastel on canvas can produce a special ‘quality’, a quality which may be no better than that of lithography, but different, just as a cut collage has a special outline quality which can be produced in no other way’.

At the request of the Tate Gallery, the artist put together some notes about T01911, of which a slightly edited version follows; (the notes were revised in a letter of 22 September 1975):

'Since I am asked for a statement about the drawing “Forms” made in 1936 I have been considering other works such as the drawings “Forms in Space” 1946 and “Flying Forms” 1947 and the much larger drawing on canvas, “Souvenir of a Museum” 1934, while a number of drawings on canvas made in 1935 are composed of simple, large, invented forms which show the same interest in space as that to be seen in “Forms”.

'All these and many other works, especially those of 1934–36 demonstrate this interest in space and the various ways an illusion of space may be created on a two-dimensional surface-and yet I realised that this limitation need not be accepted, since space is as much a reality as light; consequently in 1935, I made my first construction in three dimensions by using a small box in which I composed dried leaves, fishing lines, and dry flies, sand and pebbles. This small and unimportant construction enticed me in 1936 to compose with white string stretched over canvas, and to make a collage with black and white forms on a black background, over which white cotton lines were stretched from point to point above the collage in the space beneath. I made other constructions which were included under the title of “Récherches en trois dimensions” at the Jeanne Bucher exhibition in 1937 ... Such constructions with lines in space, as well as some drawings, certainly show an absorbing interest in space and it was in 1935 that I began making sculpture in plaster, which increased my knowledge of form and its relation to space. Such forms, especially spheres and circles, are static, consequently they have a stabilizing power in composition; it follows that when two identical spheres are linked or united they retain their static quality, yet if they are changed and become spheroid they may lose their stability and become in some sense pliable, or so it seems to me; then they can be used to indicate directions or movements, in order to balance or counter-act the movements of other elements in the composition, such as lines. All the contrasting movements, both of forms and lines, must of course, be balanced in the final work in order to avoid distracting the eyes of the onlooker too far in any one direction.

‘The solidity of the simple forms is emphasised by the light and air of the space around them in the drawing of 1936 entitled “Forms”.’ (For a more recent construction by the artist see T00631 ‘Lines in Space’ 1954).

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1974-6: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1978