Antoine Pevsner

Maquette of a Monument Symbolising the Liberation of the Spirit


Antoine Pevsner 1884–1962
Original title
Maquette d'un monument symbolisant la Liberation de l'Esprit
Object: 472 × 465 × 310 mm
Purchased 1953

Display caption

This is a model for a much larger work, Pevsner’s submission for an international sculpture competition. ‘The Unknown Political Prisoner’ was a monument commission organised by London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts in 1952. Pevsner constructed the intricate organic form entirely from straight elements. He sought to create an abstract monument with an architectural presence and geometric design that could be seen in its entirety from any direction. The repeated lines are ‘a symbol of imprisonment. The motive floating in the abyss of the sphere emphasises the image of captivity; it becomes materialised in the shape of a cell.’

Gallery label, March 2022

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Catalogue entry

Antoine Pevsner 1884-1962

N06162 Maquette d'un Monument symbolisant la Liberation de l'Esprit (Maquette of a Monument symbolising the Liberation of the Spirit) 1952

Inscribed 'ANTOINE PEVSNER' on the tablet; a centimetre scale is incised on the base
Bronze, 18 x 18 x 11 1/2 (46 x 46 x 29.5)
Purchased from the International Sculpture Competition (Grant-in-Aid) 1953
Exh: International Sculpture Competition: The Unknown Political Prisoner, Tate 6 Gallery, March-May 1953 (41, repr.)
Lit: Pierre Peissi and Carola Giedion-Welcker, Antoine Pevsner (Neuchâtel 1961), No.108, p.150, repr. as 'Maquette pour le monument au prisonnier politique inconnu'
Repr: Art Digest, XXVII, April 1953, p.8; John Rothenstein, The Tate Gallery (London 1958), pl.24

This maquette was executed in 1952 for the International Sculpture Competition: The Unknown Political Prisoner (for details of which see the note on the work by Consagra [N06166]), and won a second prize of £775. The title used here was suggested by the artist to avoid confusion with the other maquettes acquired by the Gallery. He described his model as follows in a note published in the catalogue of the exhibition at the Tate Gallery: 'Just as the Parthenon, Minerva's Temple on the Acropolis in Athens, was meant to represent the symbol of Wisdom, the Fine Arts and Science, so the idea of an International Contest for the erection of a monument to the "Unknown Political Prisoner" refers to the birth of a moral strength powerful enough to defeat the giants of a spiritual enslavement, to fling their idols of tyranny into hell and to return to man the indispensable freedom and faith which will allow him to keep heaven and earth. I have been inspired, in a similar manner, by a work like the Parthenon, which would fulfil the ideal of a monument possessing neither substantial human form, nor with the "mysterious beauty" of the skin covering the human frame. By following this idea, I have been led to create forms solely from a plastic, architectonic and sculptural concept. I would like to add some explanation of my model with regard to material, resistance, measurements, proportions and drawings made on the spot.

'Following a system which will allow me to shape my constructed images, I have solved a practical problem by constructing my works with straight lines made up of various metals all differing by their quality and thickness, and even by using steel materials stretched into straight lines for a construction on a very large scale. The project of the monument has been planned to be built with twin surfaces, each smooth surface being identical to the other. The Monument can be seen in its entirety, from whichever side it is looked at. The model represents surfaces which have been calculated according to tangents corresponding to functional equations and these surfaces are to be filled up with straight lines on various levels. This solution will thus be translated in space not by a single structure, but by a whole composed of several structures, surfaces and volumes. The function of the central structure in open work with its twin forms is finally only an ensemble of tangent lines at different points in space: a feeling of obsession is thus created by lines as a symbol of imprisonment. The motive floating in the abyss of the sphere emphasises the image of captivity; it becomes materialised in the shape of a cell.

'I am only able to outline on this model simple visual images; in process of production these images will be visualised as a whole of voluminous surfaces. This model shows the possibility of building and increasing the monument to the "Unknown Political Prisoner" according to the proportions and size required, to any range according to the scale determined in agreement with the Committee of the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London.'

When the exhibition at the Tate Gallery was over, the maquette was returned to the sculptor for two or three weeks so that he could take certain measurements and notes from it with a view to making a full-scale work. This he made in 1955- 6, and it is reproduced in Prisme des Arts, VI, 1956, p.33 and by Peissi and Giedion-Welcker, op. cit., No.114 as 'Monument for the Unknown Political Prisoner' and in L'Oeil, No.23, 1956, p.35 as 'Liberation of the Spirit'. It now belongs to the Centre National d'Art et de Culture Georges Pompidou, Musée National d'Art Moderne in Paris. It is in bronze and measures 142 x 133 x 90cm. The principal differences, apart from size, are that its outer sections have been completely covered with bronze wires set side by side, so that they form continuous surfaces instead of being of openwork construction, and the outer surfaces of the sides are encased in sheet metal.

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.588-9, reproduced p.588

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