An exhibition of drawings by Elie Nadelman — stunning, never-before-shown works on paper created by the 20th Century master after he came to New York in 1914 — will open at the June Kelly Gallery on November 9. The exhibition will continue through December 11.
The pen and inks, washes, and pencil sketches demonstrate Nadelman’s preoccupation with the simplest of artistic elements, the curve. They also reflect his artistic innovations in pre-World War I Paris and his observations of American life and society after his arrival here. The drawings in the show will be accompanied by two small sculptures from the same period. All the work is from the artist’s estate.
Nadelman had emerged in the decade before World War I as an influential member of the European avant-garde, along with Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse.
In an essay in the exhibition brochure, art historian Ronny Cohen notes that in 1908 Leo Stein, Gertrude’s brother, took Pablo Picasso to visit Nadelman in his studio in Paris. Picasso saw some of the drawings and sculptures that Nadelman was working on and soon began using some of those shapes and lines in his own Cubist work.
Another major painter of that time in Paris whose work began reflecting Nadelman’s influence was Amedeo Modigliani, who had seen his work in a major Paris exhibition in 1909.
By 1918, Nadelman had settled in New York with a studio on Madison Avenue and had become a leader on the New York art scene, producing sculptures and drawings for exhibitions in New York.
American audiences were enthralled with his rendering of the classic Head of a Woman, from about 1917, and his alluring Woman on a Settee from around 1918.
In 1910 in a statement for Alfred Steiglitz’s journal Camera Work, Nadelman wrote, “I employ no other line than the curve, which possesses freshness and force.” He also said, “The subject is nothing but pretext for creating significant form.”
His drawings, says Cohen, were “dazzling in subtle variations in shape, weight, density and also gesture happening even in different segments of the same line….
“The variety of papers, the bonds, laid linens, striped sheets, and the different ways they hold ink, wash, and pencil shows his enjoyment of and the pleasure he took in the unique physicality of the drawing medium.”
Nadelman was born in Warsaw, Poland, in 1882 when Poland was under Russian rule. He attended art and drawing schools in Warsaw. He died on December 28, 1946, in Riverdale, NY.
Major retrospectives of Nadelman’s work were organized by the Museum of Modern Art in 1948, the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1975 and 2003, the American Federation of Arts in 2001 and the National Museum of Warsaw in 2004.
Nadelman is represented in the collections of most major museums in the United States, including the National Gallery of Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, the Museum of Modern Art, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Whitney Museum of American Art, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Amon Carter Museum, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Baltimore Museum of Art, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Detroit Institute of Arts, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Wadsworth Atheneum, and many others. New York’s Lincoln Center is home to 24-foot marble versions of Nadelman’s papier-mâché sculptures, Two Circus Women and Two Circus Women (Standing and Seated) from around 1930.
An exhibition of the folk-art collection amassed by Nadelman and his wife Viola at their home in Riverdale is planned for 2015 at the New-York Historical Society.