Paule Vézelay



Not on display

Paule Vézelay 1892–1984
Plaster, paint, sand and shells
Unconfirmed: 75 × 595 × 420 mm
Lent from a private collection 2016
On long term loan


Garden 1935 is one of a small group of sculptures in plaster that Vézelay made in 1935 using simple organic forms and incorporating natural objects. The forms of these sculptures were similar to those that she had used in her paintings of the 1930s such as White Shapes in Movement 1930 (Tate L03890), extending these investigations of the relationship of form to space into three dimensions. Garden is constructed from two white biomorphic plaster shapes placed on top of each other, the lower shape closely recalling the central white form in White Shapes in Movement. The upper form in Garden is hollowed out and is shown in contemporary photographs installed in different ways, the central hollow containing sand, plants or seashells, and the lower form either bare or with shells, starfish and pebbles arranged on top of it. This flexibility in the natural objects that might be incorporated into the installation of the sculpture is reflected in the title Jardinière under which it was first exhibited at Galerie Jeanne Bucher in Paris in 1937, a ‘jardinière’ being an ornamental container in which to display plants. In a list of works compiled by Vézelay, the artist also described it as Table ‘garden’ with sand suggesting its informality in the context of a domestic environment.

Vézelay began making these plaster sculptures at the same time as she started her Lines in Space series (see Object in Three Dimensions: Feathers, Leaves, Fishing Flies etc. 1935–6 [Tate L03889]) and with the same intention of extending her investigations of forms in space into three dimensions. She wrote: ‘It was in 1935 that I began making sculpture in plâtre [plaster], which increased my knowledge of form and its relation to space.’ (Notes from Paule Vézelay concerning the drawing Forms 1936, unpublished essay sent to Tate Gallery, 1975.) Shortly before making these works, Vézelay had written about abstraction in her paintings as a language which produced new forms from the imagination:

Of my own work I must say that I hope to give intense pleasure to the eye of the beholder, enticing his regard to remain on colours and forms more pleasing than can easily be found in actuality, or seen by his own unaided imagination. I hope this pleasure will prove a kind of music for the eyes, and may hold his regard long enough to convey what I am telling with this mysterious language of paint; since it is something that can only be painted.
(Paule Vézelay, Paris 1933, unpublished text, Tate Archive TGA 9027/1/2/1.)

Four of her plaster sculptures of 1935, including Five Forms (Tate T07582), were exhibited at the Lefevre Galleries, London in February 1936, and five sculptures including Five Forms and Garden (entitled Jardinière) were exhibited in Paris at the Galerie Jeanne Bucher in March 1937. Unlike Five Forms, which was closely aligned with the concerns of Abstraction-Création in its pure white forms, Garden was closer to surrealist concerns around the found object. Its playful and unexpected juxtaposition of natural objects is reminiscent of surrealist sculpture, such as Eileen Agar’s (1899–1981) Marine Object 1939 (Tate T05818), and the juxtaposition of found objects and pure form in plaster and an informality and tactility in the way that the viewer interacts with the work is reminiscent of the small sculptures which Kurt Schwitters (1887–1948) made in the 1940s, such as Red Wire Sculpture (Tate T05767).

Further reading
Ronald Alley, Paule Vézelay, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1983.
Sarah Wilson, Paule Vézelay/Hans Arp: The Enchantments of Purity, exhibition catalogue, Henry Moore Institute, Leeds 1995, p.4.
Paule Vézelay Retrospective Exhibition, exhibition catalogue, England and Co., London 2004, p.16.

Emma Chambers
June 2016

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