In a number of his sculptures executed during the 1920s Lachaise explored the possibility of freeing his figures from an earth-bound attachment to the pedestal and 'floating them in space. These small works of acrobats, diving figures and reliefs were instrumental in the development of Floating figure. Gilbert Seldes, writing in the New Yorker in 1931, singled out one of these works in particular as the source of Floating figure, claiming it arose from the 'figure of a woman on a couch'.1 Apparently this work was broken while on exhibition and rather than simply repair it Lachaise took the opportunity to develop the sculpture, amplifying the proportions of the figure and, in doing so, separating the figure from the couch upon which she had originally reclined. The result was the small floating figure of 1924.2 This sculpture, measuring 32.4 x 44.5 x 15.2 cm (12¾ x 17½ x 6"), exists in two versions. In the first the feet of the figure have been removed at the ankles and the right arm is cut off at the elbow. In the second version the figure is edited further, the left arm being cut off at the shoulder.3 In both variants the form and rhythms of the later Floating figure 1927 are fully established.
During the next few years Lachaise developed and enlarged the figure, completing it in 1927. Floating figure was first exhibited in plaster at the Brummer Gallery, New York, in 1928, and was cast in bronze at the end of 1934 for Lachaise's retrospective held in January 1935 at the Museum of Modern Art, New York; it was delivered directly from the foundry to the museum's premises. This first, unnumbered cast, was donated anonymously to the Museum of Modern Art in 1937.
Further casts in bronze have been issued under the supervision of the artist's widow, Isabel Lachaise and, more recently, the Lachaise Foundation, Boston. The entire edition has been limited to eight casts, taking into account the unnumbered cast in the Museum of Modern Art, New York.
All casts in bronze issued to date have been cast at the Modern Art Foundry, Long Island City, New York, and are located at: the Museum of Modern Art, New York (unnumbered); the Society Hill Project, Philadelphia (1/5) (erroneously marked: should be 1/7); Ray Stark Collection, Beverly Hills, California (2/7); Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery, University of Nebraska, Lincoln, Nebraska (3/7); the Lt John B. Putnam Jr Collection, Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey (4/7); and the Australian National Gallery, Canberra (5/7).
Michael Lloyd & Michael Desmond European and American Paintings and Sculptures 1870-1970 in the Australian National Gallery 1992 p.160.
- It seems likely that the unidentified figure was Woman on a couch executed in1 918-23 and later cast in bronze in 1928, 23.5 x 26.6 x 41.9 cm (9¼ x 10½ x 16½"). See also n.2.
- The incident, described in Gilbert Seldes' article 'Profile: Hewer of Stone' (New Yorker, 4 April 1931, pp.28-31), is worth reproducing here: 'As he [Lachaise] was working in the exhibition room he noticed one of the judges — an artist himself — moving Lachaise's cast from one obscure corner to another, with an expression of considerable pain, as if he wished the walls would open and swallow up these unusual sculptures. Presently he went into another room and after a few moments a message was brought to Lachaise that one of his casts was broken. Lachaise hurried back to collect the fragments and while he was gathering them up, a man came over and told him that a second cast had been smashed. Both had fallen from the hands of the same judge, both by accident — the kind of accident that comes of suppressed desires. To guard his property Lachaise removed the rest of his casts. When he began to work on one of the broken ones, the figure of a woman lying on a couch, he found himself unwilling to repeat what he had done; the figure took on more ample proportions, and slowly freed itself from the background, until after months of labor it became the Floating figure …'
- On the difference between the two versions of Floating figure 1924, John B. Pierce Jr, Managing Trustee of the Lachaise Foundation, has written: 'Although there is some opinion that the arm was removed for casting and inadvertently lost, Donald Goodall in his monograph "Gaston Lachaise, Sculptor", Harvard University, 1969, states that Lachaise made the earlier cast with the left arm and subsequently and very carefully removed it, making other minor but precise adjustments (file marks and the like) to the plaster before making a cast now in the possession of the Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts … The Lachaise Foundation now owns the plaster, and all the casts it has made are armless. Of the five earlier (pre-1962) casts that we are aware of, there is only one that has the left arm, two do not and two we have not investigated (John B. Pierce Jr, correspondence with the Gallery, 4 November 1986).
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010