An Art Dealer’s Perspective: Elie Nadelman’s Seated Woman with Raised Arm

SEE-Octover 2011
By Tom Veilleux

Seated Woman with Raised Arm, c. 1925–26, galvano-plastique, 49” x 19.5” x 24”

Elie Nadelman, born in Warsaw in 1882, had established himself as an artist in Paris by 1905 when he exhibited at the Salon d’Automne. By 1907, he was a regular visitor at the Saturday evening salon of Leo and Gertrude Stein. He had his first solo show in 1909 at the Galerie Druet, which was a leading gallery in Paris at the time. Picasso was inspired to create his first cubist sculpture of a woman’s head after seeing Nadelman’s work. Since its creation, Seated Woman with Raised Arm has been widely exhibited. The retrospective exhibitions held at the Museum of Modern Art in 1948 and at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 2003 showcased this piece. It has also appeared in numerous books and publications, perhaps most famously in the May 24, 1948, issue of Life magazine. Most recently, the sculpture resided in the Tom Veilleux Gallery on Market Street in Portland’s Old Port.

  • As his work in America developed, Elie Nadelman became known for depicting figures of everyday life dressed in modern clothing. Seated Woman with Raised Arm is one of a small group of nearly life-sized figures and busts that he created in the mid-1920s. This group included men in top hats and women with modern hairstyles, such as the figure shown here.
  • All along, Nadelman had been interested in performers, the circus, and vaudeville. This sculpture of a circus performer depicts the entertainers as they were—strong, muscular women, not lithe or wispy. At the same time, the artist also embellished some features; for instance, the figure has tiny hands and feet. Nadelman manipulated proportions to give the sculpture its monumentality.
  • The subject is a performer who is not performing. Like the Degas ballerinas waiting to go onstage, we catch her in an introspective, reflective moment. The mysterious dimension of the work is emphasized by the absence of eyes and mouth; the features are suggested but not defined.
  • Nadelman experimented with paints on this figure and on others in the series. It is believed that he added only a few simple brushstrokes—as decoration more than anything. The painted accents have faded over time.
  • Using an industrial process known as galvano-plastique that he had observed while in France, Nadelman first sculpted this figure in plaster and then electroplated it with a metal alloy.
  • After electroplating, Nadelman scratched and worked the surface with files and various tools, giving it a rough texture before he applied paint and color. In doing this, he was attempting to evoke the timeless look and feel of the handmade folk-art objects that he admired and collected.
  • Shortly after Nadelman’s death, Life magazine pictured Nadelman’s life-sized sculptures in his parlor, propped up on a sofa and chair.

Tom Veilleux Gallery | 75 Market St. | Portland |

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