Paule Vézelay

Five Forms


Not on display
Paule Vézelay 1892–1984
Object: 280 x 380 x 250 mm, 9 kg
Presented by the Patrons of British Art through the Tate Gallery Foundation 2000


Paule Vézelay made a small number of white plaster sculptures in Paris in 1935. Five Forms, which was also exhibited in 1938 as Quatre objets sur une forme ovale (Four Objects on an Oval Form), is the finest and largest surviving example. It is made of solid plaster and consists of two cones of different sizes, a tusk-like curved cone, and a similar form cut in half lengthways, deployed upon an oval base.

Born Marjorie Watson-Williams, Vézelay trained in London and, from 1920, spent much time in Paris. She settled there in 1926, when she adopted the name Paule Vézelay to obscure both her nationality and her gender. From 1930 she made abstract paintings which became progressively simple in form. In 1934 she joined the international group Abstraction-Création along with such artists as Jean (Hans) Arp, Jean Hélion, Alexander Calder, Ben Nicholson and Barbara Hepworth. Her paintings of the mid 1930s were comparable to the work of Arp, a close friend. They were characterised by simple organic forms floating against a flat field, which reflected her interest in the representation of three-dimensional form on a flat surface. It was frustration with painting's limitations in this regard that prompted her to make sculpture. The forms of her sculptures are close to those in the paintings. Though the plaster works were restricted to one period, they had some prominence, being exhibited in one-person exhibitions in both London, at Alex Reid and Lefevre in February 1936, and Paris, at the Galerie Jeanne Bucher, two years later.

Though at least one of the other works was comparable to Five Forms - Trois objets sur une forme (Three Objects on a Form) 1935 (partially destroyed) - the small group displayed a considerable diversity. One piece, Garden 1935 included sand and actual plants within a miniature garden, and was photographed at the time adorned with seashells and starfish. Despite a shared medium, this variety may place the sculptures in different contexts. While Garden is consistent with Surrealist sculptures by a variety of artists, Five Forms is more related to the work of other members of Abstraction-Création. In the 1930s, for artists and architects, white became a symbol of a new way of living, the epitome of purity and truth, and synonymous with a new optimistic future. For Vézelay, and others, such works as Five Forms related to a spiritual level beyond mundane reality. The unevenness of the forms in this work announces its hand-made quality in defiance of a common association of such pure pieces with a mechanistic aesthetic.

Further Reading:
Ronald Alley, Paule Vézelay, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1983
Sarah Wilson, Paule Vézelay/Hans Arp: The Enchantment of Purity, exhibition catalogue, Henry Moore Institute, Leeds 1995, pp.4-5

Chris Stephens
November 2000

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Display caption

Bristol-born Marjorie Watson-Williams adopted the name Paule Vézelay while living in Paris between 1926 and 1939, during which time her work became increasingly abstract. One of only a handful of British artists that were members of the group Abstraction- Création, Vézelay was interested in how art might convey new forms of political and spiritual understanding. Five Forms is one of a small group of white plaster sculptures made in 1935 and the use of simple, white, biomorphic forms suggests truth, beauty, harmony and clarity.

Gallery label, September 2016

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