Paule Vézelay

Object in Three Dimensions: feathers, leaves, fishing flies etc.

1935–6 and ?1982

Not on display

Paule Vézelay 1892–1984
Leaves, dry flies, fishing line, sand, pebbles and other materials on canvas
Unconfirmed: 220 × 270 × 55 mm
Lent from a private collection 2016
On long term loan


Object in Three Dimensions: Feathers, Leaves, Fishing Flies etc. 1935–6 and ?1982 is constructed from an unpainted canvas stretched within a wooden frame onto which leaves, pebbles and sand are collaged. Fishing lines are stretched across the canvas to form diagonal lines which intersect in the centre, with fishing flies at their ends positioned between the collaged leaves, pebbles and sand. At the centre of the composition a fishing line is coiled into a circle intersecting an oval area of blue pigment. An early image in Vézelay’s photograph album indicates that the artist made small modifications to the work at some point; two feathers on the left of the composition were replaced by a leaf, two additional pebbles added and two of the fishing lines were slightly repositioned. Although it is not known exactly when this happened, it must have been before the work was shown in her retrospective at the Tate Gallery, London in 1983 as ‘feathers’ are not listed in the medium line in the exhibition catalogue. The work was dated by Vézelay both 1935 (on a label on the back of the frame) and 1936 (in the artist’s photograph album).

This work was the first of the series of constructions known as ‘Lines in Space’ which Vézelay began in 1935, initially experimenting with collages of natural objects and fishing lines, which then evolved into wooden cases strung with thread. The works formed part of her investigations into objects in space, begun in paintings such as White Shapes in Movement 1930 (Tate L03890) and Strange Landscape 1933
(Tate L03891) and extended into three dimensions in a series of small plaster sculptures made the same year she started the ‘Lines in Space’ series (see, for example, the plaster sculpture Garden 1935 [Tate L03888]). In the ‘Lines in Space’ works Vézelay sought to overcome the limitations of spatial illusionism in two dimensions by creating three-dimensional linear objects where lines could float free from their support and become real objects in space, both the stringed line and its shadow signifying as part of the composition. She later wrote about how this series of works had developed from Object in Three Dimensions:

In Paris in 1935 I began what I described as my ‘Recherches en Trois Dimensions, Tableaux de Fils et Ficelles tendus’. I first made small wooden cases into which I stretched fishing lines, cotton threads and fine cord; these formed straight lines and contrasting angles in space; for curves I used dried leaves and cut-out flat forms, in fact collage, but I was not content, since such limited means gave me little scope; I needed more pliable material for my curved lines, consequently I was soon using various kinds of wire which gave me three-dimensional lines which could be curved or undulated in any direction I desired, retaining the curves they had been given. So it was that with stretched threads and curved wires I had my two lines, the Straight line and the Curved line, composed in the element of Space. My Lines in Space created a third element by casting their shadows, and these changing delicate echoes seemed to add depth and light and beauty to the whole construction; they had, as all shadows have for me, a quality of magic.
(Paule Vézelay, Comments on Lines in Space, unpublished essay sent to Tate Gallery, January 1964, Tate Archive TGA 8615.1.)

The works were widely seen in avant-garde contexts. A group of them were exhibited under the title of ‘Récherches en trois dimensions’ in her solo show at the Galerie Jeanne Bucher, Paris in 1937 and in the summer of that year one was reproduced in the periodical Plastique, edited by Sophie Taeuber-Arp (1889–1943), alongside works by Taeuber-Arp and László Moholy-Nagy (1895–1946). Although the articulation and definition of space was a common concern among many of the artists of Abstraction-Création, a group that had started in Paris in 1931 and which Vézelay had joined in 1934, her investigation of these concerns through stringed constructions preceded those of artists such as Henry Moore (1898–1986) and Naum Gabo (1890–1977) from 1937, and was contemporaneous with that of fellow Abstraction-Création member Marlow Moss (1889–1958). The importance of these stringed works was recognised by critic Marcel Brion when he wrote in 1956 that Vézelay had ‘realised a completely original and independent conception for the expression of form in space, by means of a most delicate, most supple and difficult technique’ (in Art Abstrait, Paris 1956, quoted in Paule Vézelay: Retrospective, exhibition catalogue, Grosvenor Gallery, London 1968, unpaginated).

Although Vézelay’s account of Object in Three Dimensions above described the work as a stepping stone to further formal investigations, with historical perspective it is in fact important not only as a starting point for the most innovative part of her practice, but also in the way that it uses found natural objects to represent abstract formal qualities aligning it with explorations by other artists in the 1930s and 1940s. These include the combination of formal exploration and chance discovery recognised in Paul Nash’s (1889–1946) collages of the late 1930s, such as In the Marshes 1938 (Tate T02243), and also Kurt Schwitters’s (1887–1948) use of natural objects in assemblages such as Relief in Relief c.1942–5 (Tate T01259).

Further reading
Virginia Pitts-Rembert, ‘Paule Vézelay’s Lines in Space and Other Works’, Arts, vol.55, no.3, November 1980.
Ronald Alley, Paule Vézelay, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1983, pp.11, 26.
Sarah Wilson, Paule Vézelay/Hans Arp: The Enchantments of Purity, exhibition catalogue, Henry Moore Institute, Leeds 1995, pp.3–4.
Paule Vézelay Retrospective Exhibition, exhibition catalogue, England and Co., London 2004, p.16.

Emma Chambers
June 2016

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