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Following is an exhibition review from The New York Times.
Germaine Richier, an Original
By Michael Gibson
Published: May 4, 1996
SAINT-PAUL-DE-VENCE, France— Germaine Richier is surely one of the most original sculptors of our century. She was neither academic nor modernist but followed her own special way throughout the quarter century span of her relatively brief career.
Born in southern France at Grans in the Bouches-du-Rhône, Richier (1902-1959), whose work is on view at the Maeght Foundation through Aug. 25, studied at Montpellier with a former assistant of Rodin's before going to Paris. There she worked with Bourdelle during the last three years of his life.
The earliest works on view here date from Richier's early 30s and already appear to anticipate the unusual range of her aesthetics. A strange, ivory-hued plaster bust dated 1933 looks rather like a fencing mask or a mummy's head wrapped in bandages, while another bronze one, done five years later, shows the beautiful, delicately asymmetrical features of the professional model Renée Girodias, treated with the sensuous subtlety characteristic of Egyptian sculpture.
In works like these, and like Le Cirque — a woman, hands on haunches, pelvis rotated forward — Richier reveals a marvelous sculptor's eye for the most refined inflection of the surface (the great secret of the seduction of Egyptian art), but also for significant body language.
But just one year after La Girodias, she depicted another model's hefty forms (La Grosse), swiftly and powerfully modeled in clay in a way that lends the figure earthy substance and life.
This work seems to foreshadow others to come. In the postwar years, Richier's imagination began to take an unusual turn. Her large female figures became more and more insect-like — grasshopper, mantis, spider, ant — without ceasing to be women, while other tall, threatening male and female forms like The Storm and The Hurricane appear to stand for the brutal, unthinking powers of nature.
Other man-like forms assembled out of random pieces of wood (The Forest) are presented as such or cast in bronze and suggest that Richier's imagination was mainly turned to an utterly personal understanding and representation of nature.
ONE may wonder whether this is not the highly specific way this energetic, strong-willed woman, who had no children besides her sculptures, found of representing her femininity. Her own silhouette seems to have had points in common with the sturdy figures she chose to depict, and her features would have appeared undistinguished if they had not been lit by the intensity of a singularly attentive gaze.
The point is not really easy to make, but consider a large bronze sculpture like La Montagne composed of a standing figure, its belly yawning wide like some large cooking pot or Jardinière, facing an allusively bird-like figure which appears to be coming at her with a lance.
The interesting thing, from the aesthetic point of view, is that Richier does not fall into the Baroque mannerism that often replaces authenticity and invention in the work of the Surrealists.
She clearly understands their idiom, but uses it bluntly, without undue preciosity or formal circumlocution. Her Mountain, as well as her chessmen, make a statement which is not so very remote from the mood occasionally encountered in the sculptures of Max Ernst. The difference is, however, that Richier was, quintessentially, a sculptor, while Ernst was a gifted artist who sometimes happened to use sculpture. Ernst somehow managed to signify that his subject matter was essentially mythic. But he was at pains to telegraph his intent while Richier merely did what she felt like doing and left it at that. As a result Ernst's work fits cozily into our familiar representations while Richier's sculptures may first strike one as "unusual" and "odd."
But this is finally her strength. Her crucifix, for instance, originally designed for the Chapel of Assy in the Alps (for which such artists as Rouault and Fernand Léger also produced works), is one of the rare modern crucifixes to appear artistically convincing. Executed in 1950, shortly after the end of the war, her Christ is a tortured body in a tradition not all that foreign to that of Mathias Grünewald, but without the latter's detailed anatomical horror and pathos.
Richier's work has been both widely praised and generally neglected, mainly because it failed to fit into any established conservative or progressive movement. Both its form and its subject matter display a no-nonsense authenticity which deserves to be prized above all else.
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