Dora Gordine

Berceuse (Cradle Song)


Not on display

Dora Gordine 1895–1991
Bronze on wooden base
Object: 560 × 200 × 200 mm
Bequeathed by Dr Suzanne Ullmann 2014, accessioned 2019


Berceuse (Cradle Song) 1946–7 is a bronze figure that depicts a standing female nude in a balletic pose, stepping forward with her right foot, her arms in a cradling motion. The sculpture is cast in bronze with an integral square base and has a textured surface and a dark green patina. It is the first cast in an edition of six and is signed by the artist. The work is composed to draw attention both to the muscular tension and forward movement of the ballet step and to the gentle cradling motion and tender downward glance of the figure. In French a ‘berceuse’ is the ‘cradle-song’ or ‘lullaby’ sung to soothe a child to sleep, and several composers wrote pieces on this theme. Frederick Chopin wrote a famous Berceuse/Opus 57 for piano (1844) and Igor Stravinsky included one in his score for The Firebird written for the Ballet Russes in 1910. Berceuse is one of a series of eight figures that Gordine made on the theme Spirit of the Ballet and was exhibited with this group at the Leicester Galleries, London in November 1949.

Gordine moved to Britain in 1935, having lived and worked in Paris since 1924. Throughout her career she was influenced by both the French figurative tradition and South-East Asian sculpture in her production of portrait heads and figures of women in dancing poses. Between 1926 and 1932 she produced a series of portrait heads depicting different ethnic groups including Mongolian Head 1928 (Tate N04419), Guadeloupe Head/Negress 1928 (Tate T03746), Javanese Head 1931 (Tate N04695) and Malay Head 1931 (Tate N04860). The latter two works were made during her three-year trip through South-East Asia between 1930 and 1933. Although contemporaries such as Jacob Epstein (1880–1959) were also inspired by non-Western sculptural sources and frequently used models of African and Asian descent, Gordine’s portrait heads were distinctive in their interest in recording specific physiognomies and should thus be understood within the context of European imperialism and the codification of racial types in the period.

The impact of Asian sculptural traditions on Gordine’s work also extended to works which did not explicitly depict non-Western subjects. In 1941 she wrote about her admiration for Indian sculpture and how it was ‘at once static and dynamic’ and these qualities can be seen in her own works, particularly those depicting dancers (Gordine 1941, pp.43–4). Berceuse also reveals Gordine’s engagement with interwar French sculpture, particularly that of Aristide Maillol (1861–1944) whose work she had admired since meeting him in 1925 while living in Paris. The work also demonstrates her links with a modern figurative tradition in Britain which included sculptors such as Jacob Epstein, Frank Dobson (1883–1963) and Maurice Lambert (1901–1964).

Berceuse (Cradle Song) was made in an edition of six, of which this cast is the first. It was previously in the collection of Dr Suzanne Ullman, who acquired it directly from the artist. Ullman met Gordine in 1955 and modelled for the portrait head Suzanne 1956–7.

Further reading
Dora Gordine, ‘The Beauty of Indian Sculpture’, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, January 1941.
Sarah MacDougall and Rachel Dickson (eds), Embracing the Exotic: Jacob Epstein and Dora Gordine, exhibition catalogue, Ben Uri Art Gallery, London 2006.
Jonathan Black and Brenda Martin, Dora Gordine: Sculptor, Artist, Designer, London 2007, p.261.

Emma Chambers
June 2018

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

You might like