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Ossip Zadkine

Uncovering Ossip Zadkine's Artistic Prowess in Painting and a Unique Look at 'Bathers' by Malab'Art Gallery

Ossip Zadkine was a pioneer in using Cubist principles in sculpture. He created striking compositions that reduced the human figure to geometric forms and emphasized the dynamic interplay of concave and convex surfaces. This approach resulted in a unique and captivating visual experience for the viewer. Zadkine was widely recognized throughout his long and illustrious career for creating powerful and bold visual statements. His work often addressed the atrocities of the twentieth century, some of which he had witnessed firsthand during his military service in World War I. Despite these traumatic experiences, towards the end of his life, Zadkine reflected in his memoir: "But it is in any case very beautiful to end your life with a chisel and mallet in your hands."

There are over 612 sculptures and a large number of works on paper, 765 gouaches and drawings, as well as 200 lithographs and etchings created by Ossip Zadkine. His Parisian studio of the rue Rousselet exhibited his works on May 20th, 1920, marking the beginning of a long series of shows. He had over 105 solo exhibitions during his lifetime, in Europe, the United States, and Japan.

Malab'Art, a gallery based in London, is exhibiting a unique painting by Ossip Zadkine called 'Bathers' (1935).

Bathers (1935)

His remarkable artistic production includes more than four hundred sculptures, thousands of drawings, watercolors and gouaches, engravings, illustrations for books and tapestry cartoons.

Zadkine's life story is quite interesting. He hailed from Vitebsk, which is now in present-day Belarus, and his exact birth year is believed to be around 1890. Despite his father's initial disappointment that he was more interested in clay art than academics, Zadkine pursued his passion and went on to become a renowned sculptor. When he was just fifteen, he was sent to live with his relatives in Britain to improve his English and manners, an experience that would have a lasting impact on his artistic career. It was during this time that he was introduced to woodworking and found employment in a London cabinet-making shop where he proved his prowess in carving furniture ornaments. He further honed his skills by attending evening classes at the Regent Street Polytechnic. Although he faced rejection from young British sculptor Jacob Epstein, Zadkine's confidence in his artistic abilities remained unshaken. His father recognized his potential and sent him to Paris to enrol at the École des Beaux-Arts, where he would develop his unique style and become a renowned sculptor. Unfortunately, years later, Zadkine would receive the devastating news that his parents had died during the Bolshevik Revolution.

Zadkine's artistic journey took him to Paris during the height of the Cubist movement in 1910. During this time, artists like Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso were exploring new ways of depicting reality through abstract geometric forms. After studying at the École for six months, Zadkine decided to join fellow avant-garde artists Marc Chagall and Amedeo Modigliani at La Ruche, an artistic enclave located in the Montparnasse area of Paris. Rather than sticking to his academic style, Zadkine chose to experiment with the art of direct carving, which allowed the carving process to determine the final shape of the work, whether it was made out of wood or stone.

During World War I, Zadkine served in the French Army from 1916 onwards. He was assigned to the First Foreign Regiment, which was a division of the French Foreign Legion. His focus was on medical transport and caring for wounded soldiers. After being severely gassed, Zadkine was discharged in 1917 and returned to Paris. He described himself as "physically and morally devastated." Zadkine created a series of etchings that documented his harrowing experiences on the front, which were published the following year. In May 1920, Zadkine held an exhibition of forty-nine sculptures at his Parisian studio, which received critical acclaim. The French art historian George Duthuit praised the powerful "bare simplicity" of the works in the preface to the exhibition catalogue and ranked Zadkine as one of "the greatest craftsmen of the moment." This exhibition solidified Zadkine's talent and reputation, which only grew as he continued to experiment with plaster or clay models that were subsequently cast in bronze. Zadkine's dedication to his craft and his willingness to take risks paid off in the end, as evidenced by a series of successful one-man exhibitions in London, Brussels, and New York.

It's fascinating to learn about the experiences of artists like Zadkine during the World War II era. Zadkine, who was of Jewish descent, fled to New York in 1941 as the Nazi regime advanced into France. Despite the limitations he faced in terms of supplies and materials, he managed to exhibit a series of gouache paintings at the Galerie Wildenstein. While Zadkine found his time in America to be challenging, it was also a period of growth for him as an art educator. He taught at the Art Students League and even mentored Elizabeth Catlett, a sculptor who was inspired by Zadkine to incorporate abstraction into her work. Zadkine's invitation to teach sculpture at Black Mountain College in North Carolina in 1945 was a testament to his talent and dedication to his craft. It must have been a joy for him to work alongside artists like Jean Varda and Leo Amino.

It's amazing how he was able to express his own trauma and the devastation of the continent through his art. It's inspiring to see how he was able to channel his emotions into something that could honour the city's history and resilience. The Destroyed City sounds like an incredible sculpture, especially given the context and history behind it. I can only imagine the palpable anguish that must be infused into the piece. It's definitely impressive that Zadkine was able to create such a masterpiece, and that he was able to use his art to speak out against the horrors of war.

Between 1946 and 1958, Zadkine taught sculpture at L’Académie de la Grande-Chaumière in Paris, where he enthusiastically applied the innovative teaching methods he had acquired at the Art Students League. In 1948, he founded the Ossip Zadkine Studio of Modern Sculpture and Drawing, which was approved for GI Bill tuition funding and attracted many American students, including Kenneth Noland, a Black Mountain College alumnus and veteran. Zadkine was a highly acclaimed artist who received numerous awards throughout his career. He was awarded a major retrospective in 1949, the sculpture prize at the 1950 Venice Biennale, and the French Grand Prix National des Arts in 1960. Although he passed away in 1967 following abdominal surgery, his legacy lives on through his artwork, which was generously donated by his widow to the city of Paris. Today, everyone can enjoy his home and artwork at the Musée Zadkine, which opened in 1982.

The statue by Ossip Zadkine stands on Vincent van Goghplein in Zundert, in front of the Van Gogh Church, and near the birthplaces of both artists. The statue is a wonderful tribute to the two great artists and their shared heritage. Queen Juliana and the Mayor of Zundert, G.J.A. Manders, unveiled it on 28 May 1969, in the presence of Ossip Zadkine.

The bronze work of art is approximately two and a half metres tall, including a thick base. The weathered bronze green colour has spread to the lightly coloured pedestal. The expressive hands, lines, and space between the men's bodies are reminiscent of Zadkine's statue, The Devastated City (De Verwoeste Stad), in Rotterdam. The two men in the Zundert statue are holding hands, and their heads touch. Hello! In the painting, the man on the right is wearing a collar to indicate his citizenship. Thank you for reading! In this article, Zadkine skillfully avoids depicting the Van Goghs' faces, instead providing a unique look at 'Bathers' by Malab'Art Gallery. Overall, Zadkine's contributions to the art world are truly remarkable.

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