Artist's small figures don't measure up.

April 08, 1994|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,Sun Art Critic

Early 20th-century sculptor Gaston Lachaise (1882-1935) was a native of France but spent most of his career in this country. He is best known for his female bronzes, whose forms possess the monumentality of the ideal without sacrificing femininity or becoming sterile exercises.

The Baltimore Museum of Art has a major Lachaise, the 1927 "Standing Woman (Elevation)." Now the Mitchell Gallery at St. John's College in Annapolis is providing an extensive look at Lachaise through an exhibition circulated by the Lachaise Foundation of Boston. It contains 45 sculptures dating from 1908 to 1935, the year of his death, plus 20 drawings.

It has its points, but also its disappointments. Chief among the latter is the fact that most of these works are quite small figures -- 5 inches to 15 inches tall. They just don't have the presence of the full-size works. Lachaise is not among those sculptors who can work small and still look big.

Added to that is the fact that some of these smaller figures, such as "Woman on a Couch" (1928), are dressed in costumes of the period. This makes them look considerably dated, further removing them from the timeless monumentality of Lachaise at his best. And the drawings are a real disappointment; it is possible to get closest to some artists through their drawings, but Lachaise's line lacks interest.

On the positive side, there is one full-sized figure, "Torso of 'Elevation' " (1927), which possesses the essence of Lachaise in its combination of sexuality and classical grandeur. His remarkable "Head of a Woman (Egyptian Head)" (1923) balances the stillness and repose of a mask with the sense of a consciousness inhabiting the work, about to move and speak.

Among the best works here are the several portrait heads, with which Lachaise appears to capture the nature of his sitters. Especially effective are the "Mask of Marie Pierce" (1927), with its hints of courage and sadness, and the "Edgard Varese" (1928), in which the composer's features present a dialogue between the intellectual and the sensual.

And there are several late works, such as "Passion" (1932-1934) and "Torso with Arms Raised" (1935), in which we see smoothness of surface and ideal form giving way to roughness, overt emotion and even suggestions of violence.


What: "An Exhibition of Sculpture and Drawings by Gaston Lachaise"

Where: Mitchell Art gallery, St. John's College, Annapolis

When: Noon to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays; 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. Fridays. Through April 24

Call: (410) 626-2556

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