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Lot 51: Original model for Zadkine's masterpiece entirely made by hand
April 6, 2014
Amsterdam, Noord-Holland, NetherlandsLive Auction
SCULPTURE - ZADKINE, Ossip (Russian 1890 - 1967). The Destroyed City. Ossip Zadkine (1890 - 1967) The Destroyed City (model) reinforced plaster, height 130 cm. Unique handmade copy fabricated by the artist in 1948. Presumably painted over in one layer white after moulds were made. Unrecorded. Not in the catalogue raisonné (probably assumed to be lost or destroyed by the bronze foundry).
The present sculpture was produced in 1948 and based on a metal frame on which plaster was applied. It is the only plaster model of Zadkine's masterpiece ever on the market and now - 66 years later - up for sale for the very first time.Two other copies in plaster are known, only one of which survives. The first one, a model by the name of "Ontwerp voor een monument voor een verwoeste stad" ("Design of a monument for a destroyed city"), perished in 1947 on its way back from the first exhibitions where it was shown, in Prague and Berlin respectively. Zadkine made a new copy that was exhibited, among other places, in the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, and was introduced by Sandberg to the director of the Bijenkorf, G. van der Wal. This copy remains part of the Bijenkorf collection to this day. Van der Wal was immediately convinced of the power of the design to serve as a war monument for the city of Rotterdam and decided to finance the project on behalf of the Bijenkorf (only after 25 years, in 1978, when the plaque was attached, it became known that the Bijenkorf was the driving force behind the monument). For this to become reality, first the city of Rotterdam had to endorse the plan for the monumental sculpture. Van der Wal, who was himself a collector of sculptures, decided that a plaster model would not suffice for this purpose and, after consulting Zadkine, ordered a bronze cast at the bronze foundry "Binder" in Haarlem, which he placed in the canteen of the city hall. Afterwards, he handed mayor Van Walsem his very extensive documentation, and gave his blessing to convince both the administration and the people. Only in 1951 would the local administration give its consent, when almost all, sometimes uncommonly violent, resistance had quieted down. The monument would become 6 meters in height, 3000 kilograms in weight and was to be placed on a stone pedestal at the Leuvehaven. For the final sculpture, Zadkine created a smaller plaster model of 2.25 meters in height, that was exhibited for the first time in December of the same year. The artist considered "The Destroyed City", on its way to become the largest war memorial in the world, to be his magnum opus. Nevertheless, after a while, the size of the model became so cumbersome in his studio, that he wanted to chop it up in pieces. Van der Wal, who owned the rights to the sculpture, intervened and made a bronze cast of it in 1956. The latest phase of the preparation of the monument was not without its difficulties either. Because a work of this size could not be casted in the Netherlands, the famous French sculpture foundry "Rudier" would cast the six-meter-high plaster model (which was ready by 1952) in bronze. Unfortunately, Rudier suffered a stroke while driving his car on the Champs Elysées. He managed to reach his house, but on arrival, fell out of the car dead. This was more than just a personal drama. Rudier had written in his testament that his company would no longer cast bronzes after his death. His company, however, was the only one that was capable of casting sculptures au sable ('in sand') on this scale. The order had to be transferred to another foundry, "Susse", that worked with the much more expensive method au cire perdu ('in lost wax'). In April of 1953 the monument was finished in Paris. It was unveiled in Rotterdam in May of the same year. In the end, 6 copies were cast in bronze in the same foundry in 1957 (and another 5 épreuves d'artiste) after the Bijenkorf model of 1948, signed "O. Zadkine 1947". Several of these copies are public property, and are exhibited in the Musée d'Art Moderne de Bruxelles, the Baltimore Museum of Art and the Musée Zadkine. Although there can be no misunderstanding about the fact that the sculpture that is presently for sale is originating from the first phase of the creation of the monument, the provenance and the meaning of this remarkably beautiful plaster sculpture is once more carefully examined and described. The model was left behind by the artist to be destructed at the bronze foundry "Binder" in Haarlem, where the presentation model in bronze was casted that Van der Wal presented in Rotterdam in early 1949. There it was discovered in 1955 by Mrs. Van Taalingen-Dols from Aerdenhout who passionately - "destruction would be a mortal sin" - requested Zadkine by letter to save the copy for him. She vowed to never make reproductions of it and take good care of it "at home". Zadkine agreed and Binder handed her the sculpture that would be part of her home in Aerdenhout until her death in 1980. It was inherited by her daughter who took it with her to Rotterdam, where she sold it to the current owner in 1990. Mrs. Van Taalingen-Dols, who is perhaps best remembered today for her book De strijd om een mensenleven ('The battle to preserve a human life') (1960), was well known for her resistance work during the Second World War, by fighting the deportation of Dutch Jews on legal grounds. Her expeditiousness in this matter, according to Lou de Jong, may be illustrated by the fact that she succeeded in infiltrating the group of closest collaborators of Eichmann, and successfully prevented the deportation of her college professor, Prof. Meijers, to the "work camps" in Eastern Europe. The couple Van Taalingen paid Zadkine a visit in his studio in Paris in 1957. As requested by the artist, the loan was paid off by paying FF 10.000 in cash (according to an oral statement ten years later to the daughter and later owner Mrs. Suermondt). Mrs. Van Taalingen is now the legal owner of the sculpture. Although Zadkine's wish to destroy the plaster model was presumably in the first place aimed at preventing illegal copies, it also illustrates the prevailing appreciation at that time for copies in plaster. Or, better put, the complete lack of that appreciation. Only in the last few years, the interest in plaster models is on the rise. Not only because they are (much) closer to the artist, but also because of their esthetic superiority: they show much more details and contrast. If that is true for cast copies that were produced on the basis of a clay archmodel, it applies even more so to this sculpture that was completely handcrafted by Zadkine. A model, furthermore, on which he knew the fate of the monument would depend and, in a way, his whole artistic legacy. This is the copy in which Zadkine combined all the emotion he felt during the conception, all his creative power and all his craftsmanship to convince and conquer Rotterdam, and ultimately the whole world.
Provenance: Passed from bronze foundry "Binder" in Haarlem (1948) in the hands of famous legist Mrs. Van Taalingen-Dols (1955), her daughter Mrs. Suermondt-Van Taalingen (1980), of whom the sculpture was acquired by the present owner.
Artist or Maker: ZADKINE, Ossip (Russian 1890 - 1967).
Literature: Sylvain Lecombre and Helena Staub. Ossip Zadkine, l'oeuvre sculpté. Paris, 1994, pp. 435-37 and 457-61Jana Beranova and Jim Postma. Zadkine. Rotterdam 1985. In particular pp. 15-20 and pp. 39-40