Not on display

César (César Baldaccini) 1921–1998
Original title
Le Pouce
Polyester resin
Object: 406 × 140 × 203 mm, 6.7 kg
Presented by the artist 1966

Display caption

César was a key figure in the French 1960s movement known as Nouveau Réalisme. This aimed to engage directly with reality through using everyday artefacts rather than traditional art materials. In the early 1960s César made sculptures from machine-crushed pieces of metal. They were known as 'compressions'. From 1965 he worked on a series known as 'expansions', and experimented with what were for him new materials, such as glass fibre and polyester resin. This 'thumb', made for an exhibition on the theme of the hand, was based on a lifesize cast of his own thumb, scaled up using the machines traditionally employed by sculptors to enlarge their works. César made several, increasingly large versions of this work.

Gallery label, August 2004

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Catalogue entry

César born 1921

T00819 Le Pouce (Thumb) 1965

Inscribed 'Cesar 1965' on cut-off at side
Red polyester resin, 16 x 5 1/2 x 8 (40.5 x 14 x 20)
Presented by the artist 1966
Exh: La Main, Galerie Claude Bernard, Paris, December 1965-February 1966 (no catalogue)
Lit: Georges Boudaille, 'Conversation autour d'un Pouce avec César' in Les Lettres Françaises, 30 December 1965-5 January 1966, pp.1, 26-8, bronze 41cm high repr. p.26; Pierre Restany, César (Monte-Carlo 1975), pp.146-7, 223, bronze 90cm high repr. pl.120, detail pl.122
Repr: Art News, LXIV, February 1966, p.44

This work, in fact this particular cast, was made for an exhibition on the theme La Main (The Hand) at the Galerie Claude Bernard, Paris, in December 1965-February 1966, which consisted of sculptures of hands by seventy-three sculptors from Rodin and Bourdelle onwards.

César told the compiler on 31 May 1973 that he started with a cast of his own thumb. Though it has been cast in bronze, he does not regard it as really a work of art. It was then enlarged by means of one of the old machines used by sculptors like Rodin for enlarging their sculptures. This machine, which was operated by a woman, built up the form profile by profile; he had to enlarge this work in stages for the sake of accuracy. The version owned by the Tate was followed by versions 90cm and 200cm high, and his ambition was to make one 500cm, if he could find someone who would pay the cost of carrying it out. He had originally been very much against the use of these machines, until he saw the possibility of using them in a different way.

The following versions had been made up to the summer of 1973 (information from Marcel Lefranc through the Galerie Claude Bernard, June 1973):

(a) 1965:size 8 cm
cast in bronze in 1966 in an edition of 10 + an artist's proof

(b) 1965:size 18cm
cast in stainless steel in an edition of 8 + 2 artist's proofs

(c) 1965: size 40.5cm
cast in bronze in an edition of 6 + 2 artist's proofs + 2 copies in red polyester + 1 copy in rubber (not for sale)

(d) 1966:size 90cm
cast in bronze in an edition of 4 + 2 copies in aluminium + an artist's proof + a copy in orange polyester

(e) 1966: size 200cm
exhibited in plaster. To be cast in bronze in an edition of 6 + 2 artist's proofs.

As César told Georges Boudaille in 1965 (op. cit.): 'This thumb is a thing which interests me passionately, I like it just as much as my other sculptures. I could be reproached for not having made it with my own hands. But then, what is the role of dreams, of imagination? ... I make what I want to make, I consider that this idea I have just carried out of making a sculpture by means of my imprint is as valid as any other'.

He afterwards, in 1967, made another huge enlargement of a female breast, 5 metres in diameter and 2.5 metres high, which decorates the ornamental pool at the Rochas perfume factory at Poissy.

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.101-2, reproduced p.101


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