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Gaston Lachaise

Gaston Lachaise
Gaston Lachaise photographed by Carl Van Vechten, 1934
Born March 19, 1882
Paris, France
Died October 18, 1935(1935-10-18) (aged 53)
Nationality French
Education École des Beaux-Arts
Known for Sculpture
Notable work Standing Woman (1932)

Gaston Lachaise (March 19, 1882 – October 18, 1935) was an American sculptor of French birth, active in the early 20th century. A native of Paris, he was most noted for his female nudes such as Standing Woman. Gaston Lachaise was taught the refinement of European sculpture while living in France. He met a young American woman, Isabel Nagel, and the pair moved to America, where his craft reached maturity and he was influenced and inspired by American ways. Lachaise helped redefine the female nude in a new and powerful manner. His drawings also reflected his new style of the female form.


  • Early life and education 1
  • Move to America 2
  • Works 3
  • Collections 4
  • References 5
  • Sources 6
  • Further reading 7
  • External links 8

Early life and education

Born in Paris, Lachaise was the son of a cabinetmaker.[1] At age 13 he entered a craft school, where he was trained in the decorative arts, and from 1898 to 1904 he studied sculpture at the École des Beaux-Arts under Gabriel-Jules Thomas. He began his artistic career as a designer of Art Nouveau decorative objects for the French jeweler René Lalique.

Move to America

Having fallen in love with a married American woman, Isabel Dutaud Nagle, (she eventually was divorced from her husband and married Lachaise [2] ) Lachaise emigrated to the United States in 1906 and worked in Boston for H. H. Kitson, an academic sculptor producing primarily military monuments.[3] In 1912 Lachaise went to New York City and worked as an assistant to the sculptor Paul Manship. Like that of Manship, his work can be seen at Rockefeller Center. In America, Lachaise matured into his unique style and portrayal of the female nude. He worked mostly in bronze. Lachaise's nudes were seen as strong yet gentle, husky but curvy, and seem to be referring to fertility as well. “The breasts, the abdomen, the thighs, the buttocks—upon each of these elements the sculptor lavishes a powerful and incisive massiveness, a rounded voluminousness, that answers not to the descriptions of nature but to an ideal prescribed by his own emotions.”[4]


Floating Figure (1927, bronze), no. 5 from an edition of 7, Purchased 1978 by the National Gallery of Australia
Standing Woman at UCLA, 1932
Metropolitan Museum of Art

Lachaise's most famous work, Standing Woman (modeled 1928-30, copyrighted 1932, cast ca. 1933, Museum of Modern Art, New York), typifies the image that Lachaise worked and reworked: a voluptuous female nude with sinuous, tapered limbs. Lachaise was also known as a brilliant portraitist. He executed busts of famous artists and literary celebrities, such as John Marin, Marianne Moore, and E. E. Cummings. In 1935 the Museum of Modern Art in New York City held a retrospective exhibition of Lachaise's work, the first at that institution for any American sculptor.[5] One of the principal sculptors working in the United States in the early 20th century, Gaston Lachaise was born in Paris March 19, 1882. Encouraged by his father, an expert cabinetmaker, he began studying the applied arts at the age of 13 at the École Municipale Bernard Palissy, and three years later entered the École des Beaux-Arts, where he received formal classical training in sculpture. Around 1902 or 1903 he met and fell in love with Isabel Dutaud Nagle (1872-1957), an American woman of French Canadian descent who was in Paris overseeing the education of her young son. When she returned to her home near Boston in 1904, Lachaise vowed to follow her. After briefly working for the master jewelry and glass designer René Lalique in order to pay for his passage, he arrived in America in 1906, never to return to his native land. For the next fifteen years he earned a living as a sculptor’s assistant- his most noteworthy association was with Paul Manship from 1914 until 1921. Even as he assisted others, Lachaise created his own art.

In 1918, (eight months after he became an American citizen and married Isabel), Lachaise began his meteoric rise in the New York art world with his first solo show, held at the Bourgeois Galleries, which featured his challenging, heroic-sized Woman (Elevation). By the mid-1920s, his genius was recognized by both critics and patrons and he was considered to be the most innovative sculptor in America. In early 1935 he was honored with the first retrospective given to a living sculptor at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. His brilliant artistic career was cut short by his pre-mature and unexpected death from acute leukemia in mid-October of that year.

Lachaise’s personal idiom was developed during the first decade of the twentieth century with his encounter with Isabel. But it was not until his arrival in New York, that he realized his principal manifesto- his concept of "Woman" as a force of Nature based on his wife’s image. In his own words he described his many sculpted images of the female nude in contrasting terms- vigorous, robust, and massive yet in repose, serene and eternal. Gaston Lachaise was an extremely versatile sculptor, technically expert in several medium and accomplished with both ideal and commercial effort. Lachaise created remarkable portraits of the literary, social and artistic figures of his time, including E. E. Cummings, Georgia O'Keeffe, John Marin, Marianne Moore and Lincoln Kirstein. His work was also chosen for several major New York architectural commissions – including the AT&T Building and Rockefeller Center. And the more commercial aspect of his sculptural output - the production of fountains and decorative bronzes, primarily depicting animals – offered him some financial relief. Yet Lachaise’s artistic legacy is closely bound to his depictions of "Woman." Even the rarely seen late works, which are extreme manipulation of his ideal of the human anatomy, are still surprisingly erotic and emotional and avant-garde.

Called by ARTnews as the "greatest American sculptor of his time," he played a critical role in the birth of American Modernism, pushing the boundaries of nude figuration with his innovative explorations of the human body.


Public collections holding his works include:


  1. ^ "Biography".  
  2. ^ "Art: Radiating Sex & Soul". Time. January 17, 1964. 
  3. ^ "GASTON LACHAISE". Portrait of the Art World.  
  4. ^ Kramer 1967, p. 13.

Cantor Art Center in Stanford University


  • Budny, Virginia, "Gaston Lachaise’s American Venus: The Genesis and Evolution of Elevation," The American Art Journal, vols. 34-35 (2003–2004), pp. 62–143.
  • Kramer, Hilton (1967). The Sculpture of Gaston Lachaise. New York: The Eakins Press. 

Further reading

  • Taylor, Sue. "Gaston Lachaise". Art in America, November 2013. New York: Brant Publications, Inc. pp. 183–184. (Review of 2013 Lachaise exhibition at the Portland Art Museum, Oregon.)
  • Silver, Ken; Paula Hornbostel; Peter Sutton. Face & Figure: The Sculpture of Gaston Lachaise, Bruce Museum, Greenwich, CT, 2012.
  • Bourgeois, Louise, "Obsession"; Jean Clair, "Gaia and Gorgon"; Paula Hornbostel, "Portrait of Isabel:
  • The Letters and Photographs of Gaston Lachaise"; Hilton Kramer, "The Passion of Gaston Lachaise" in exhibition catalogue Gaston Lachaise, 1882-1935, Editions Gallimard, published in the USA 2007.

External links

  • The Lachaise Foundation official website
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