César (César Baldaccini)

The Man of Saint-Denis


Not on display

César (César Baldaccini) 1921–1998
Original title
L'Homme de Saint-Denis
Object: 511 × 1103 × 280 mm
Purchased 1958

Display caption

Many of César’s sculptures from the late 1950s are of winged figures. In The Man of Saint-Denis the wings come to dwarf the human body, and transform it into an insect-like hybrid. The plates of scrap metal welded into broad sheets lend an armoured aggression to the body. This sculpture was partly inspired by the famous French ‘bird man’ Léo Valentin, who carried out a series of parachute drops wearing wings made of canvas and wood. Saint-Denis was the location of César’s workshop, where the sculpture was made.

Gallery label, July 2012

Does this text contain inaccurate information or language that you feel we should improve or change? We would like to hear from you.

Catalogue entry

César born 1921

T00183 L'Homme de Saint-Denis (Man of Saint-Denis) 1958

Not inscribed
Welded iron, 19 3/4 x 43 x 9 (50.3 x 109 x 23)
Purchased from the artist through the Galerie Claude Bernard, Paris (Grant-in-Aid) 1958
Exh: César, Dodeigne, Penalba ..., Galerie Claude Bernard, Paris, March-May 1958 (no catalogue)
Repr: Divergences 6 (exh. catalogue), Galerie Grange, Lyons, June-July 1958; Studio, CLIX, 1960, p.108; John Rothenstein, The Tate Gallery (London 1966), p.264

Made in the workshop César used at Saint-Denis, hence the name. César worked at this time in three different workshops, at Epinay, Villetaneuse and Saint-Denis, and named many of his sculptures after the place where they were made, such as 'Nude of Saint-Denis', 'Insect of Epinay' and 'Man of Villetaneuse'. The works hop at Saint-Denis was in an iron foundry, where there was plenty of scrap metal lying around that he could use in his sculptures.

He told the compiler on 31 May 1973 that this sculpture was partly inspired by Léo Valentin, the famous French 'bird man', who carried out a series of delayed parachute drops wearing wings made of canvas and wood which were each nearly two metres long. (One of the workmen at the iron foundry commented that a sort of winged figure which César had made looked like Valentin; and in 1957-8 César made a series of winged figures similar to the present work, including several which he called 'Valentin 1', 'Valentin 2' and so on). The other source of inspiration was the technique of creating these forms from pieces of metal, a form language which derives from the metal. César emphasised that he was working not in a studio but in workshops in large factories such as Renault, where there were machines for working metal. It was there that he discovered arc and argon welding, which made it possible for him to work in this way and to join thin strips of metal to thick pieces. The earlier sculptors who produced works in welded iron, like Gonzalez, used autogenous and not arc welding.

Published in:
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.99-100, reproduced p.99

You might like

In the shop