Demeter by Jean Arp

“Suddenly my need for interpretation vanished, and the body, the form, the supremely perfected work became everything to me” – Jean Arp

Often guided by chance and intuition, Jean (Hans) Arp enjoyed creating organic, fluid shapes evocative of natural forms and parts of the human anatomy. About his sculptures Arp wrote: “Often some detail in one of my sculptures, a curve or a contrast that moves me, becomes the germ of a new work… Sometimes it will take months, even years to work out a new sculpture. I do not give up until enough of my life has flowed into its body. Each of these bodies has a definite significance, but it is only when I feel there is nothing more to change that I decide what it is, and it is only then that I give it a name”*

By 1930, some two years after he disengaged from the Surrealist camp, Jean Arp found himself more and more preoccupied by the expanded volumes of sculpture in the round. It was from this point forward that he learned to transform the biomorphic shapes of his earlier reliefs into full-fledged sculptural forms.

Déméter, conceived in the last decade of the artist’s life, is a culmination of his life-long study of the human form, interpreted here through the classical story lines of Greek mythology. The bronze sculpture was conceived in 1960 and cast in 1964.

Jean Arp, Demeter in dark patinaAccording to classical myth, Demeter was the goddess of fertility and of agriculture. With her daughter Persephone, she presided over the natural cycles of life and death and the annual harvests on earth. Much like Henry Moore’s Reclining Nudes, Déméter was rendered in fluid, nurturing curves; her tilted head suggests care and love, her supple wide hips – a sign of abundant fertility. In Greek mythology Demeter was also the embodiment of maternal attachment, resilience and implacability in the care and defense of her offspring. After Hades, the god of the underworld, abducted Persephone, Demeter wandered the world for a year in search of her missing daughter, while crops languished without her blessing and the earth produced no fruit. At the intercession of Zeus, Hades at last released Persephone to her mother, under the condition that she must be returned to the underworld for one-third of the year, for she had eaten three pomegranate seeds – the food of the dead – while she was underground.**

In Greek mythology this incident serves as the origin of the four seasons. While Persephone is reunited with Demeter, nature blooms and the earth is verdant and bountiful; when Persephone returns to the underworld, the earth turns barren and cold while Demeter mourns the absence of her daughter.

Jean Arp conceived Déméter in 1960 or about a year after his marriage to his longtime friend and collaborator, Marguerite Hagenbach. He subsequently made 5 bronze casts in 1964 and above you see the 4th of the five sculptures, finished with a mach darker patina.

The Art of Jean Arp, New York, Harry N. Abrams, 1968, p. 87.

** Christie’s Lot Notes, 2005