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The Golden Age of Russian Impressionism

Germaine Richier (September 16, 1902 - July 21, 1959)

Germaine Richier
(September 16, 1902 - July 21, 1959)
      Art Work
Name: Germaine Richier
Gender: Female
Place of Birth: Grans, France
Nationality: French
Birth: September 16, 1902
Death: July 21, 1959
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   Quick Facts
Known For:
Fine Art Profession(s): Sculpture

Germaine Richier trained in the 1920sunder two artists who had worked for Rodin, Louis Guigues and Antoine Bourdelle. She became one of the most powerful sculptors of her time, showing at international exhibitions including the Venice Biennale (1950.1952 and1954) and the Sao Paulo Bienal (1951). There were major retrospectives of her work at the Musee Nationale d'Art Moderne (1956), the Muse Picasso, Antibes (1959), and the Muse Rodin (19 68).

Before the Second World War Richier was a sculptor of conventional portrait busts and nudes. But after the conflict she began to make figures in bronze, whose pitted, scarred surfaces carried the marks of their making and at the same time evoked the terrible destruction. A Crucifix commissioned in1950 for a Catholic church designed by Le Corbusier caused an outcry when it was unveiled, and had to be removed. The etiolated, tortured body of Christ appeared to be collapsing into the rough surface of the sculpture. But in Britain her work was well received by a young generation of artists. The catalogue of her first London exhibition, at the Anglo-French Art Centre in 1947,called for 'a new epoch" in art, 'the result of a meeting between plastic expression and lacerated expression'. Elisabeth Frink remembered the great impression Richier's work made upon her as a young woman visiting an exhibition at the Hanover Gallery in1955." In the catalogue essay for that show, David Sylvester wrote. 'For Richie the assertion of the human image does not depend on creating - in the old humanist tradition ... fine, noble effigies of unadulterated man ... Hers is a human image challenged, battered, ruined, and still obstinately human.'

Richier was one of the few women to be included in the 1982 Barbican Exhibition Aftermath: France 1945-54,New Images of Man, along with her friend Maria Helena Vieira da Silva. They collaborated on the painted sculpture La Ville (1952, private collection), in which Richier's skinny figure stands in front of a fractured cityscape painted by da Silva, an individual alone in a world with no coherent meaning. Both women also made work about chess, game in which pieces are manipulated in a power play that is, in reality, a pointless exercise. Richier's L'Echiquier (Grand) is a group of colorfully painted plaster figures on plinths. They look like chess pieces, but magnified, and seem to be hybrids - spindly, sinister mixtures of animal, insect and human. Their large scale suggests that, standing near them, you could become part of the game. The work of both da Silva and Richier embodies the existentialist philosophy being developed in Paris, a belief in the absurdity and anguish of existence. Richier was the only woman among the ten artists in the exhibition Pans Post-War: Art and Existentialism1945~55-neld at the Tate Gallery, Millbank in 1993- The merging together of animal and human forms in so much of Richier's work suggests another reading in the context of her age. Her work can be seen as a representation of the latent bestiality of humans.

Some of Richier's sculpture seems in sympathy with the images of women made by her male contemporaries. La Mante, grande (1946, editions in several European public collections) was perhaps influenced by Picasso's monstrous mantis-woman, and the work of the Surrealists, for whom the insect symbolized female erotic power. Other female figures follow the well troddenground of turning women into objects. In L'Eau (1953-4, Tate), the head of a seated woman curves to form the top of a jug, with looped handles/ears.

But other works pointedly subvert the representation of the sexes. In these, Richier seems to turn the division of power structured in Picasso's many pairings of the brutal, potent male artist/bull/minotaur and the soft, vulnerable model/woman, on its head. There are a series of bronzes from the early 1950s titled Lafemme-coq and L'homme-oiseau. The woman is a cockerel, ruler of the roost, the man merely a bird. Hurricane Woman (1948-9, Tate) is a dark figure whose heavy body appears about to lurch into motion. She is companion to a male nude, titled L'Orage, meaning' the storm' (1947/8, Tate), whose title indicates that he symbolizes a less powerful force (the name of the female figure in French.'L'ouragane", is a masculine word, adding another layer to Richier's gender games). L Araignee 1(1946, Goulandris Foundation, Greece) is not a spider, but a flailing female figure, pulling on a taut wire thread, straining for release (Richier made a series of works in a similar vein, but with a woman/ant). The piece has a strong feminist resonance, and an interesting parallel in the arachnids made by Louise Bourgeois.

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