Wood relief panel
11 1/4 x 65 3/8 x 7/8 inches
Wichita Art Museum, Museum purchase, Burneta Adair Endowment Fund
Not Currently on Display
About the Artwork
Robert Laurent was born in Concarneau, France, upon completion of his schooling, he worked in Paris as a dealer of Japanese prints. In 1907 Laurent went to Rome to study drawing at the British Academy. He also studied frame making, which introduced him to woodcarving and, ultimately, to sculpture. He was taken on as an apprentice and surrogate son by the noted American artist and philanthropist Hamilton Easter Field, who brought Laurent to New York in 1910 and established a studio for him. That year, Laurent settled permanently in the U.S.
Laurent’s first major exhibition was at the Daniel Gallery, New York, in 1915. The carved wood reliefs that he exhibited were a major critical success. The subtle way in which Laurent approached carving called attention to the materiality of the wood object as well as the physical process of carving, such as the sharpness of an incised line. Laurent’s technique was viewed in contrast with prevailing academic taste, which prized a highly finished (polished) surface that, even when carved from wood or stone, resembled cast bronze. The physicality and manual process evident in Laurent’s work was soon given the name “Direct Carving.” The principal characteristics of Direct Carving are a spontaneous approach to composition, the use of simplified forms, and a sensitive response to the nature of the material.
The earlier panel, Lower New York, 1914 predates the 1915 exhibition in which Laurent was credited with developing the direct carving technique. Central Park, 1927 takes the idea of direct carving beyond technique, extending it into the realm of style. Laurent’s style emphasized the mass and geometry of forms over detailed naturalism. The result, almost certainly unintentional on Laurent’s part, has an affinity with Art Deco.
Thus, the two panels, while depicting the same subject, New York City, do so in contrasting styles, each representative of their day and of Laurent’s stylistic development. The 1914 panel exhibits a more precise depiction of nature and detail as well as a more subtle surface modulation, whereas the bold and simplified forms of the 1927 panel has an affinity with the tribal art that was then so highly esteemed in the art world.
The provenance (meaning history of ownership) of the panels is historically valuable, for they were commissioned by the prominent New York collector and philanthropist Aline (Mrs. Charles J.) Liebman. The panels were part of Mrs. Liebman’s art cabinet, which mainly contained prints. She added to her cabinet over time, which accounts for the thirteen years between the two panels. Future research will probably show that Mrs. Liebman was a friend of Laurent’s champion, Hamilton Easter Field.