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 Gaston Lachaise  (1882 - 1935)

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Lived/Active: New York/Massachusetts      Known for: sculpture-caricature nude, sketches

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Ad Code: 1
Gaston Lachaise
from Auction House Records.
The Peacocks, A Bronze Group of Three Peacocks
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Born in Paris, Gaston Lachaise became a sculptor, whose signature work was larger-than-life abstract, erotic female figures who were nude and reclining or standing, had pendulous breasts and large stomachs. Some of them were acrobatic and others were floating figures in fountains. He also did an occasional male nude as well as portrait busts.

Gaston Lachaise was the son of a master cabinet-maker and wood carver with whom he trained. At age 13, he enrolled in the Bernard Palissy School to study sculpture and at age 16 in the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. He also worked for Rene Lalique of the famous glass making family.

In 1906, he arrived in Boston where he worked for Henry Hudson Kitson. He became enamored with Isabel Dutaud Nagle, and she, 10 years older than he, became the passion of his art and life. He then established a studio in New York where he repeatedly sculpted the figure of Isabel. His major artistic influence was Paul Manship, whom he served in New York as a studio assistant. Lachaise was financially successful, but his wife lived lavishly making them poor and recipients of charity.

Lachaise also spent many of his summer months in Maine, especially in Georgetown, and he was a member of the Woodstock, New York Art Association.

Among his public commissions were reliefs in New York City for the American Telephone and Telegraph Building in 1921 and the Rockefeller Center International Building in 1934. The Lachaise Foundation, a charitable trust based in Boston  "sponsors a traveling exhibition of sculptures and drawings by Lachaise; oversees the production of a limited number of casts made from plasters by Lachaise to expand and strengthen his connection with the public, through loans, gifts and sales; and maintains an archive of books, magazines and other publications concerning Lachaise, his works and career." (Lachaise Foundation Mission Statement)

Matthew Baigell, Dictionary of American Art
Lachaise Foundation website

Biography from The Columbus Museum of Art, Georgia:
Gaston Lachaise was born in Paris, France, the fourth child of an accomplished wood carver and cabinetmaker.(1)  At thirteen, he entered the École Bernard Palissy studying drawing, carving and art history.  Three years later, he went on to study at the École de Beaux-Arts and his work was exhibited in four annual Paris Salons. Later he worked for the jeweler and glassmaker, René Lalique.  In 1901 following the death of his father, Lachaise was forced to deal with an economic setback but was able to retain his studio. 

By 1903, he had met Isabel Dutad Nagle, a married woman ten years his senior, and who would become the muse for his art.  Lachaise used the funds he had saved from his work with Lalique to follow Nagle back to Boston in 1906.(2)  Marsden Hartley once wrote that Lachaise saw “the entire universe in the form of a woman.”(3)  In 1912, he opened his own studio in New York, and in 1913 entered the Armory Show.  He also apprenticed to the sculptor Paul Manship and worked with him on many garden sculptures as well as the J.P. Morgan Memorial at the Metropolitan Museum and on Rockefeller Center.

By 1916, he had become an American citizen, and he finally married Isabel Nagel (now divorced from her first husband) in 1917.  A year later, he had his first one-man show at the Stephan Bourgeois Gallery in New York.  By 1927, he was producing his most mature work, which was mainly female torsos; but he also did head studies of John Marin, Georgia O'Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz.  Lachaise had always admired Houdon’s portraits and he grew to maturity in the time of Rodin in Paris, so this form of sculpture would have been familiar to him.  Lachaise made portraits of many of the pacesetters of American intellectual society, including a number of the distinguished group surrounding The Dial magazine.

The artist joined Kraushaar Galleries in New York in 1922.  In 1925 Lachaise had a solo exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago.  In 1927, he exhibited at Alfred Stieglitz’s The Intimate Gallery.  In early 1935, Lachaise was honored with a retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, but many of his pieces were only in plaster, as he could not afford to have them cast in bronze.  Many were cast again later for exhibitions at the Whitney, Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art.  His pieces are owned by many museums including the Art Institute of Chicago, Detroit Institute of Arts, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Modern Art, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Hirshhorn Museum and the Columbus Museum.(5)

Lachaise died in 1935 of leukemia at the age of 53.  He is acclaimed by many as one who helped prepare the next generation for an appreciation of non-objective sculpture.

1. We are indebted to Gerald Nordland, Gaston Lachaise: The Man and His Work (New York: George Braziller, 1974) for information on Lachaise’s biography.
2. Barbara Rose, Gaston Lachaise Sculpture (New York: Salander-O’Reilly Gallery, 1991), 12. She was the life long inspiration for his sculptures of voluptuous females. 3. Marsden Hartley, “Twice a Year,” The Sculpture of Gaston Lachaise, edited by Hilton Kramer (New York: The Eakins Press, 1967), 27. This essay was published originally in 1939.
4. Rose, 87. This included Scofield Thayer, James S. Watson, Jr., Henry McBride, M. R. Werner and the poet e.e. cummings.
5. Carolyn Kinder and Margaret Christman, Gaston Lachaise Portrait Sculpture (Washington, DC: National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, 1985), 16. Submitted by the Staff of the Columbus Museum, Georgia.

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Gaston Lachaise is also mentioned in these AskART essays:
New York Armory Show of 1913
Painters of Nudes

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