Robert Laurent: Open Studio labels

Robert Laurent

Sketch for Goose Girl

n.d.

Graphite on paper

#1953.27

This preliminary sketch marks a departure from Laurent’s preferred direct carving method to undertake a career defining commission. By 1930, Laurent had moved beyond carving of such works as Young Girl (1928) and started casting large scale figures in bronze, such as Hilda (1930). Pearl (1932), would shortly follow Goose Girl in his exploration of aluminum as a sculpture medium.

While much of Laurent’s output throughout his career depicted female figures, including deities such as Europa, Hero and Venus and a recurring motif of mothers with children, his overall concern was an exploration of natural forms. This included not only male and female figures but also plants and animals. Examined within the broader context of his career, Goose Girl may be seen as a story about the interplay between humans and nature, represented by a graceful, classically inspired figure and a high spirited wild goose.

Goose Girl was one of three sculptures commissioned in 1931 for the lobby of the newly designed Radio City Music Hall, under the planning of interior designer Donald Deskey. The other selections were also nude figures, William Zorach’s Spirit of the Dance and Eve by Gwen Lux. The choice of cast aluminum for these sculptures, sponsored by the Alcoa corporation, was intended to convey a message that the facility was at the vanguard of modernism.

Not everyone involved in the project was progressively minded, however. Samuel “Roxy” Rothafel, Director of the Music Hall, ordered the three nudes to be removed prior to opening, saying their “artistic merit was not within the boundary of his critical judgement”, and that nudes would be so offensive to public decency as to create a risk to ticket sales.

According to John Laurent, it was a practical consideration that ultimately led to the resolution of the debate and the return of the sculptures. A hole had already been cut into the lobby’s expensive new carpet to accommodate Goose Girl’s installation.

 

Robert Laurent

Pearl

1932

Cast aluminum

Collection of Singh Johnston Family

Laurent’s second work in aluminum following the success of his Goose Girl commission for Radio City Music Hall was Pearl, cast in 1932. Although it had been developed in the 1890s, the choice of aluminum as a sculpture material took on greater significance in the early 1930s. The possibilities offered by this gleaming, low cost, lightweight metal were revolutionary, and its use in everything from aircraft bodies to skyscraper detailing not only enabled stylistic virtuosity but communicated a commitment to modernism. Aluminum provided an ideal ingredient for the Art Deco aesthetic and the comfortable lifestyle it promised.

It was no coincidence that Pearl was exhibited at Chicago’s Century of Progress International Exhibition of 1933 and 1934. She represented the post Great Depression America that was emerging, led by advancements in science, technology and design.

Pearl also appeared at the Second Outdoor Sculpture Exhibition of the Sculptors’ Guild of New York in 1939, and in the inaugural exhibition of the Museum of Art of Ogunquit in the summer of 1953.

 

Robert Laurent

Untitled

circa 1920

Wood

Collection of Hal Laurent

Robert Laurent, like Hamilton Easter Field, Walt Kuhn, Wood Gaylor and others in their circle, promoted the study of artwork from beyond formal academic traditions, and passionately collected folk art and antiques. While their interest included early American paintings, it also extended to the weathervanes, nautical crafts, furniture and practical household objects which were readily found throughout New England.

The unfinished low relief figure at the rear wall of the studio, probably carved around 1920, is an example of the influence of folk art on Laurent’s style. The forms Laurent employs to describe this matronly character, such as the stylized rings of hair and the diamond pattern on her sleeve, are at once highly simplified and methodically detailed, showing Laurent’s commitment to exploring folk art for humble techniques that would become influential when applied to contemporary fine art.

Although he became an American citizen, Robert Laurent was proud of his Breton heritage, and identified with self-taught and often anonymous artists and craftspeople even as he gained mainstream success. “I am a peasant”, he once told an interviewer, “and create sculpture like one.”

 

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