Henri Laurens is born in Paris, in 1885. Trained at the School of Arts and Crafts in Paris and in various studios for interior decorating, he focuses on figural sculpture. A decisive influence on his early work is his meeting of Pablo Picasso and Georges Braques whose cubist experiments influence his first sculptures. In his constructions of painted metal and wood, Laurens fashions seemingly unstable, figural structures made of flat elements (Le Clown, 1915; Tête, 1915 — 1918). He has his first solo exhibition in Paris, in 1916. Soon, he starts using ceramics and stone as materials and applies the cubist principle of an analytic, fan-like presentation of volume, to create heads, still lives, and figures (Tête de jeune fille, 1920).
In 1919 Laurens returns to rounded body shapes. Especially his female nudes in stone and terracotta show clear and calm contours, curved and rounded surfaces, and static postures (Femme accroupie, 1922). These tendencies become more distinct in the mid-1920s, shifting towards a figural classicism. Laurens’ works are now of a larger format and his orientation towards the tradition of nude sculpture fuses with his decidedly architectonic fashioning of figures (Femme à la draperie, 1928; Karyatide 1929). Starting in 1925, Laurens also does drafts for the Ballets Russes.
In the 1930s and 1940s Laurens’ concepts of the figural change again decisively. Biomorphic principles of representation that express surrealist ideas of natural metamorphoses become the guiding line for his female nudes. The anatomically deformed and massive, seemingly soft bodies become expressions of natural substances. Zoomorphic creatures with flowing, pliable contours emerge that, simultaneously with the works of Henry Moore, aspire to an archetypal renewal of female nudes. Yet while Moore primarily stages the segmentation of the body into allegorical representations of landscapes, Laurens looks for the processual rendering alive of animal-human metamorphoses that, after the 1940s, increasingly take mythological themes as their basis (La Grande maternité 1932; L’Océanide1933; Les Ondines 1933). At the world fair in Paris in 1937/38 Laurens receives numerous public commissions for his female nature allegories (La Terre, 1937;L’Eau, 1937). After the war, a solo exhibition is dedicated to Laurens’ work at the Venice Biennale. His work is honored with an exhibition in Brussels in 1959, with a large retrospective in Paris in 1951, and with numerous national and international exhibitions until the present.
Henri Laurens dies in Paris in 1954.
Henri Laurens. Rétrospective: Ausst.-Kat. Musée d’Art Moderne de la Commune Urbaine de Lille, Villeneuve d’ Asq, Paris 1992
Henri Laurens. Skulpturen, Collagen, Zeichnungen, Aquarelle Druckgrafik. Œuvreverzeichnis der Druckgrafik: Ausst.-Kat. Sprengel Museum, Hannover 1985
Hofmann, Werner: Henri Laurens. Das plastische Werk, Stuttgart 1970