Christopher Wood 1901-1930

Provenance

Mrs E. Dalziel Smith, the artist's sister
Private Collection, London
Private Collection, 2012
This drawing was made sometime between 1926 and 1928 while Christopher Wood was living in Paris. It compares closely with other pictures which he made of urban Paris, often including squares and tree-lined boulevards with people passing. A notable example of this kind of picture is Paris Snow Scene (1926, Kettle's Yard, University of Cambridge), which depicts motor cars, a top-hatted dog walker, a maid holding an umbrella, and a sign for the Metro. The street life of Paris was popularised as a subject by the Impressionists in the 1870s, most especially in the work of Renoir and Caillebotte. This work includes two women out for a stroll and jousting pigeons.

The central subject of this drawing is Gustave Crauk’s sculpture Le Crépuscule (1867) (fig. 1) in the Jardin des Grands-Explorateurs, a small public garden which runs along a narrow north-to-south site immediately below the Jardin du Luxembourg. The sculpture was commissioned for the garden’s public opening and accompanied three other figural narrative sculptures which are spread across the space. Aside from Crauk’s evocation of twilight, the other sculptures represent dawn, day and night.

The academic neo-classicism of Crauk’s sculpture evidently appealed to Wood, who started painting nude figures after meeting Jeanne Bourgoint in 1926. The frontal nudity of the female figure is central to this drawing, and the artist has played upon the ambiguous sexual relationship between the two sculpted characters. The man turns his head away and leans on a branch with a look of taciturn preoccupation. Always receptive to a playful visual ambiguity, Wood’s rendition of the sculpture makes it appear as if the man is leaning upon the woman’s head. The woman gazes up into the man’s face.

The treatment of the figures is neo-classical in a manner originated following the Great War by Pablo Picasso, who tutored Wood in drawing in 1925 and with whom he shared many mutual friends and a professional involvement with the Ballet Russes. The drawing style is also indebted to Picasso, whose virtuoso precision encouraged the use of singularly applied pencil lines. The same style is apparent in the drawings of Jean Cocteau.