Gaston Lachaise


1912–27, cast 2012

Not on display

Gaston Lachaise 1882–1935
Object: 1800 × 700 × 500 mm
Presented by the Lachaise Foundation 2018


Elevation is a life-size bronze sculpture of a female nude which derives its title from the figure’s tip-toed pose. Its apparent weightlessness defies the ample proportions of the figure and the weight of the sculptural material. Having emigrated from France to the United States in 1906, Gaston Lachaise became an important figure in the cultural trans-Atlantic exchanges of the early twentieth century. Elevation is one of his most recognised works. It garnered notoriety when shown in the artist’s first solo exhibition (held at the Stephan Bourgeois Galleries in New York in 1918) in the dual contexts of rights for women and wartime memorialisation. Lachaise himself saw the female figure as an archetypal embodiment of natural forces. In ‘A Comment on My Sculpture’ made at the time that the bronze of Elevation was first exhibited in 1928, he wrote of the archetypal ‘Woman’: ‘Soon she came to forceful repose, serene, massive as earth, soul turned towards heaven … Then “Woman” rose again, upstanding, noble, bountiful, poised on her toes, with closed self-absorbed eyes, nearly detached from earth.’ (Gaston Lachaise, ‘A Comment on My Sculpture’, Creative Art, August 1928, reprinted in Champion 2003, 2007, pp.133–4.)

This clear reference to Elevation epitomised Lachaise’s highly-charged language. The source of his inspiration for the figure was Isabel Dutaud Nagle, his partner since 1902. Lachaise followed her to Boston in 1906 and, after her divorce from her first husband, they married in New York in 1917. Their life ran at a high emotional level, as attested by the 567 surviving letters that the sculptor wrote to Nagle between 1910 and 1935 (Paula R. Hornbostel, ‘Portrait of Isabel: The Letters and Photographs of Gaston Lachaise’, in Champion 2007, p.92). A similar openness and intensity is seen in Nagle posing nude for Lachaise’s photographs. Historian Paula R. Hornbostel has proposed that the series of photographs ‘constitutes a useful index of the body Lachaise loved’ (Hornbostel 2007, p.114), and has published an image of ‘Isabel, arms raised, left foot pointed, Georgetown, Maine’, c.1913 (Hornbostel 2007, p.102) which is close in pose to Elevation.

Beyond this private world, Lachaise served as an assistant to the American sculptor Paul Manship (1885–1966) before establishing his own reputation. Lachaise’s most visible public commissions were the Art Deco reliefs for the International Building in the Rockefeller Plaza in New York made in 1934; these were followed by a retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, New York in 1935.

Elevation was shown as a plaster in 1918 and began to be cast in bronze from 1927. Of the edition of twelve, ten are in American museums and two in private collections. Five were cast in the artist’s lifetime (Art Institute of Chicago; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo; Saint Louis Art Museum; Philadelphia Museum of Art). Three posthumous casts were made during the lifetime of Lachaise’s widow, Isabel (Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, Virginia; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Baltimore Museum of Art). The Lachaise Foundation was established in New York in 1964 and cast a further four sculptures between then and 1967, in order to complete the artist’s edition of twelve (The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota; Nasher Sculpture Center, Dallas; John D. Rockefeller Estate, Kykuit, Pocantico Hills, New York State; private collection, United States of America). Tate’s cast, the last and a unique artist’s proof aside from the edition of twelve, was made at the Modern Art Foundry in Queens, New York in 2012 and is the only cast in Europe.

Further reading
Jon Wood, Gaston Lachaise and ‘Elevation’ 1912–27, exhibition leaflet, Henry Moore Institute, Leeds 2003.
Virginia Budny, ‘Gaston Lachaise’s American Venus: The Genesis and Evolution of “Elevation”’, American Art Journal, no.34–5, 2003–4, pp.62–143.
Jean-Loup Champion, Gaston Lachaise: Sculptures and Drawings, Paris 2003, 2007.

Matthew Gale
May 2018

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Display caption

This life-size nude sculpture is made from bronze. The woman is standing on her tiptoes, arms raised and eyes closed. The work’s title, Elevation, is taken from the figure’s tip-toed pose. The sculpture’s apparent weightlessness stands in contrast to the heavy bronze material. Elevation was first shown in New York City in 1918. It was seen within the contexts of the rights for women movement and memorialising the First World War. Lachaise saw the figure as an ‘embodiment of natural forces.’ He wrote that the woman ‘rose again, upstanding, noble, bountiful, poised on her toes, with closed self-absorbed eyes, nearly detached from earth.

Gallery label, April 2021

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