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The last twenty years or so of the nineteenth century gave birth—or at least their mothers did—to the great inventors of modernism, still so celebrated today that we know them by only one name. Think of Picasso, Braque, Brancusi, Giacometti, Soutine, or Chagall. They are like Brazilian footballers, summed up in a word that clearly needs no translation, so famous they need no further definition. They are there, forever, like Mount Rushmore.
Ossip Zadkine’s afterlife has never been so chiseled in stone, but Zadkine himself remains, as a contemporary of these artists, one of the great sculptors who cut the modern sensibility into hard materials. Some of his best works are on display in le Musée Zadkine on la rue d’Assas in the Sixth Arrondissement. By all means go and look.
The museum is off the street in a courtyard, with his house straight ahead of you and his studio to the right. The house is the permanent museum, and the studio houses temporary exhibits by contemporary artists (one wonders if that is a prediction).
But the grand display of Zadkine’s works begins in the courtyard, and it can set you back on your heels. The first, and probably the most famous work there, is “Torse de la Ville détruite,” a monument to the destruction of Rotterdam during the Second World War. Twisted and tormented, it stands just a few meters from Rebecca, also called the “Tall Water-carrier,” a woman with a placid round face that reminds me a little of Brancusi’s early takes on Mlle Pogany—gentle and so innocent. This startling juxtaposition is not accidental—Zadkine himself placed them where they are today—and will give you an idea of how ably and smoothly Zadkine could move from one tone or point of view to another. There are ten more sculptures in the garden, so if you want to see only the most imposing and monumental works, you need go no further. But you should.
Inside the house, which is old and seems so fragile you want to walk lightly, there are two rooms with small works mounted high enough so that you may look directly at them—and not so many that you feel that you are peering into a forest of statues. The curatorship has been tasteful and discreet here and throughout the museum. Opposite the two small salles, there is what’s called Zadkine’s verandah, more like a large five-sided bay window built out from the house, in which is displayed “L’Oiseau d’Or” from 1924, a painted plaster bird that is simply gorgeous in a calculatedly outrageous manner and pure fun. In my opinion, only artists who have a sense of humor can be called great, and the Golden Bird qualifies Zadkine as far as I’m concerned.
The next three rooms contain larger works, typical in form—rugged, angular—but again different in tone. Some are grim or heroic; others, like “L’Intimité” or “La Maternité,” are pure tenderness. Of course, intimacy and motherhood should be tender. The works should speak to you directly, not through a reviewer, but there is one thing that stands out in my mind. It is how many different materials Zadkine used, in no particular order or chronology. You will see sculptures in bronze and different alloys, plaster, cement, marble, granite, terra cotta, various stones he had quarried specifically for his work, ebony, pear wood, acacia, elm, and walnut. I may have missed a species or two. But the range of his media speaks to his talent, his eye for the right material for this particular piece—like Flaubert searching for le mot juste.
With a good eye, you might be able to distinguish the earlier works from the later, but throughout there is an undercurrent that is typical of Zadkine and is reinforced by two photographs of him, one as a young man, the other late in life. You can see the young in the old and vice versa, but there is a constant. In both, he is smoking a pipe while he works. It gives you an idea, I think. I hope you’ll go and get your own.
Tél. 01 55 42 77 20
100 bis, rue d’Assas, Paris 6th
Métro: Line 4, Vavin; Line 12, Notre-Dame des Champs
Bus: 82, 83, 38, 91
Vélib’: stands on rue d’Assas and around the corner on rue Michelet
RER: B, Port Royal
Open Tuesday-Sunday from 10am- 6pm; Closed Mondays & holidays
Admission is free to permanent collection; 4€ temporary exhibitions
To download a self-guided brochure for this and other Paris municipal museums, click here
Note: Zadkine Museum will be CLOSED temporarily for maintenance September 5-December, 2011
Museum Zadkine banner ©Mairie de Paris
Zadkine with pipe public domain
“Torse de la Ville détruite” ©AlbinoFlea
Photos of “Rebecca” and “L’Oiseau d’Or” from Zadkine Museum publicity materials
Agnès Dupont is a retired Paris native who enjoys visiting and writing about Paris museums for BonjourParis. Click on her name to learn more about her.
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