(1882 - 1946)
Elie (Eliasz) Nadelman was active/lived in New York / France, Poland. Elie Nadelman is known for abstract figure and animal sculpture.
Biography from the Archives of askART
A sculptor of abstract human figures, Elie Nadelman was one of the
first Beaux-Arts* style trained sculptors to experiment with abstraction in
figurative subjects. He applied aesthetic theories he learned in
Europe to American subjects and popular culture. His work seems a
combination of classical* methods and folk art*, which merge to create a
unique fusion of traditional and modern.
Biography from the Archives of askART
Born with the name Eliasz Nadelman on February 20, 1882 in Warsaw, Poland he was the youngest of
seven children of Philip and Hannah Nadelman. He grew up in
Poland's Russian Zone, where the tensions of anti-Semitism
existed. His parentsm who owned a jewelry shop, decided to raise their children in a relatively
In 1899, Nadelman, by then known as Elie, graduated
from the Warsaw Gymnasium and enrolled in the Warsaw School of Fine
Arts. He enlisted in the Russian Imperial Army to avoid a
draft, which would have required four years of service. Returning
to Warsaw the following year, he worked on his own for two years and
then headed to Munich, drawn by German Romanticism*. There he was
exposed to an array of historical styles and artworks, and at the time
his work remained in the Symbolist* style.
In 1904, he entered a
drawing competition and earned second prize, receiving five-hundred
francs, which enabled him to move to Paris in autumn 1904. There
he settled into the Polish art colony of Montparnasse, that included
Guillaume Apollinaire, Adolphe Basler, and Andre Salmon, as well as
Nadelman began to exhibit in group shows and
attracted the attention of Thadee Natanson, co-publisher of the famed La Revue Blanche.
Natanson introduced Nadelman to a group of patrons and
critics that included expatriate Leo Stein, Andre Gide, and Eugene
Druet eventually gave Nadelman his first solo exhibition, featuring
thirteen plaster sculptures and 100 of his "radically simplified
drawings." His drawings "so bordered on abstraction that Nadelman
would later use them to support his claim that he, not Picasso, had
invented Cubism".* Another supporter of his work was New Yorker,
Alfred Stieglitz, photographer and gallery owner, who promoted
avant-garde European artists in his Gallery 291*. He featured
Nadelman in his October 1910 issue of his publication, Camera Work.
following year, Nadelman had a one-person show at the William B.
Paterson Gallery in London. This show included ten female heads
chiseled in marble and was purchased in entirety by Helena Rubenstein.
constantly experimented with materials, working with wood, bronze, and
marble or gilded gold. He also experimented with the scale and
sizes of the figures. His subject matter was inspired by dancers,
jugglers, and acrobats of the circus and other forms of popular
entertainment at the time. He also began to use figures dressed
in modern everyday clothing, which was unheard of at the time.
continued to exhibit in Paris at the 1914 Salon des Independants and
the 1913 Armory Show* in New York. Nadelman enlisted in the
Russian Imperial Army at the onset of World War I, but was advised that
it would be too dangerous for him to cross Germany and instead went to
England. Helena Rubinstein commissioned him to create large
plaster reliefs for her New York salon, and on October 24, 1914,
Nadelman left England on the Lusitania, expecting to return. He
initially disliked America, but this culture would eventually inspire
In December 1915, Alfred Stieglitz with his Gallery 291 offered
Nadelman his first New York one-person exhibition, which featured two
new plasters, a series of drawings, and
earlier sculptures and reliefs. Nadelman continued to exhibit and
had great success with
sold out shows of his genre subjects composed of simplified geometric
forms and stylized animal bronzes. This led to high profit,
additional portrait commissions, and a place among the most successful
modern sculptors in America.
Experimenting with hand-painted,
tubular plaster works of performers, he exhibited these in a December
1917 group show to support the war-relief effort. These became "the
subject of public ridicule and scorn. . . . these spirited visions of
American pop culture seem to have been interpreted not as celebrations
of everyday life but rather as humorous spoofs or, even worse,
Nadelman may have lost money
in sales during this time, but his financial situation improved when he
married Viola Speiss Flannery, a wealthy widow. His marriage,
"situated Nadelman in a world of wealth and privilege, the trappings of
which included a retinue of servants, memberships at exclusive social
clubs, a spectacular townhouse, and a carefully restored
nineteenth-century mansion overlooking the Hudson River." He
exhibited less often but still remained active. In 1925, he
exhibited his bronze and wood versions of stylized plaster genre
figures, and classical heads, that used stains, gesso*, and paint.
These wooden figures were very unpopular during his lifetime, selling
only one, but now are among the most valued works of Nadelman's.
and Viola, started to collect folk art and material
culture. The couple traveled Europe, America, and Russia to find
pieces of vernacular art. In 1924, they began to build a home for
their collection of approximately 15,000 objects, next to their
Riverdale estate. Two years later the three-story building was
completed, and they opened the Museum of Folk and Peasant Arts to the
During the Depression, the Nadelman's experienced
financial difficulties, losing their stock portfolio and losing rent on
their real estate holdings. The couple was forced to change their
elegant life style because the bank foreclosed on their townhouse in
1933, and they had to sell the Riverdale estate, which they rented and
bought back in 1936.
When most artists were working for the
federal arts programs, Nadelman refused, although he did a commission
in the frieze for the Fuller Building. The couple sold their
folk art collection to the New York Historical Society for a mere
$50,000, when they expected $350,000 to $400,000 for it. He
worked as the curator of the collection, but was dismissed in April
1939. Nadelman felt the loss of his collection, and said: "The
dismantling of the Museum did also dismantle something in me."
impoverished," Nadelman had not exhibited his own work since 1927 and had became
isolated. At the time, the Abstract Expressionists* were making
their mark on the art world. Fate of Nadelman's relatives in
Poland at the time of World War II spurred him to work on the war
relief service as art instructor at Bronx Veteran's Hospital from
1942-1945. He was later weakened by a heart condition that
limited his mobility.
Elie Nadelman, age 64, committed suicide on December 28, 1946.
Evelyn C. Hankins, "Elie Nadelman: Sculptor of Modern Life", American Art Review, June 2003
* For more in-depth information about these terms
and others, see AskART.com Glossary
The Percy R. Pyne-Elie Nadelman House at 4715 Independence Avenue in
the Bronx is significant as a rare surviving example of the rural
estates constructed in the Riverdale section of the Bronx in the second
half of the nineteenth century, as a superlative example of picturesque
architectural design, and as the home of Polish-American sculptor Elie
** If you discover credit omissions or have additional information to add, please let us know at
Dramatically situated on bluffs
overlooking the Hudson River, Riverdale developed as a summer retreat
for wealthy New Yorkers following the opening of passenger rail service
along the eastern banks of the Hudson River in 1847. The area was
known as Riverdale-on-Hudson until it was incorporated in 1874, along
with western portions of the Bronx, into the City of New York.
This 2-story brick house was erected circa 1880 by Percy Rivington Pyne
(1820-1895), an English-born financier who was president of the
National City Bank and also served as a director of numerous
corporations and charitable institutions including the Delaware,
Lackawanna and Western Railroad Company and St. Luke's Hospital.
its architect is unknown, the Pyne-Nadelman House, with its irregular
massing, fanciful detailing, and picturesque siting, clearly displays
the romantic design principles popularized by Andrew Jackson Downing
and Calvert Vaux in the middle of the nineteenth century.
Elements such as gables, bays, brackets, flaring eaves, king-post
trusses at its gable peaks, corbelled chimneys, round-arch windows, and
porches combine to give the house an Italianate-Gothic Revival
In the twentieth century, this house became the
residence of avant-garde sculptor and Polish emigre Elie Nadelman, who
influenced the work of Picasso and other Modern artists. He was
well-known and respected in Europe before emigrating to the United
States in 1914.
Nadelman's early work was included in the
groundbreaking 1913 Armory Show in New York City, while his later work
was shown at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Brooklyn Museum of
Art. In 1919, Nadelman and his wife founded the Museum of Folk
and Peasant Art in Riverdale, opening it to the public in 1935.
Two years later, the Nadelmans sold their collection of over 50,000
objects to the New-York Historical Society. Nadelman also created
the sculptural motifs for the Fuller Building at 593-599 Madison Avenue
(a designated New York City Landmark) and a reclining figure of
Aquarius for the Bank of Manhattan on Wall Street.
lived in this house from the early 1920s until his death in 1946.
Today, the Pyne-Nadelman House retains its peaceful wooded setting and
picturesque character, and remains largely intact.
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