As he was suffering from a serious bone disease, Laurens did not fight in the First World War. During the war years he lived in Paris and, after 1915, made constructed sculptures and papiers collés (paper collages) in a Cubist style. The earliest of these works have all been lost or destroyed and later ones, such as the present work, are rare.
In Still Life, as in a small number of related papiers collés from that year (see Paris 1986, pp.62-9), a bottle is represented as if analysed from different viewpoints. Other overlapping papers give the impression of a table-top, and geometric shapes outlined in white chalk suggest the base of the bottle and possibly a glass or a bowl on the table. At the centre of the composition, a piece of newspaper shows part of an advertisement for a book about herbal medicine. It functions as a kind of 'label' for the wine bottle, and may have been intended as a humorous reference to the medicinal properties of wine. The use of a real element to represent itself within an otherwise highly abstracted composition was characteristic of Cubist papiers collés especially those made by Picasso and Braque between 1912 and 1914 (see Tate T00414). Only a few known works by Laurens use this technique.
It was as a result of his friendship with Braque (whom he met in 1911), and subsequently with Picasso and Gris, that Laurens was introduced to Cubist practice. The art historian Christopher Green has described how Laurens's work between 1916 and 1919 'represented above all a deeply personal response to Picasso's initiatives in Cubist sculpture, and especially to the multi-media constructions the Spaniard had begun in 1912' (Green, p.23). This is particularly evident in Laurens' constructed sculptures of 1915-18 which share many characteristics with such works as Picasso's Still Life 1914 (Tate T01136) but can also can be closely related to the play between abstraction and reality in his papiers collés of the same period.
In 1951, Laurens recalled: 'At the time of Cubism, we all thought along the same lines. But we couldn't go on making papiers collés all our lives. We gave all we could in that common endeavour. After that each of us had to go his own way' (London 1971, p.3). Laurens did not make papiers collés after 1919. However, in the relief sculptures he made in the late 1910s and 1920s, such as Head of a Boxer (Tate T06833), he continued to explore the compositional effects of cut-out and superimposed planes.
Henri Laurens 1885-1954, exhibition catalogue, Arts Council of Great Britain, London 1971
Henri Laurens: Constructions et papiers collés 1915-1919, exhibition catalogue, Musée national d'art moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris 1986
Christopher Green, Cubism and its Enemies, New Haven and London 1987, pp.21-5
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