Ossip Zadkine
Biography of Russian Cubist & Expressionist Sculptor.

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Ossip Zadkine (1890-1967)

Russian sculptor, painter and graphic artist, Zadkine settled in Paris in 1910 and became an avant garde artist and a major figure in the Ecole de Paris. Although his sculpture was influenced by both Auguste Rodin (1840-1917) as well as Cubism and its sister movement of modern art, Futurism, his main concern was with dramatically expressive shapes and forms: notably his characteristic use of concave contours and hollows.

His best-known work is his public monument The Destroyed City (1953, Rotterdam city centre), an expressionist statue widely regarded as one of the masterpieces of modern semi-abstract sculpture. It made Zadkine one of the best known twentieth century sculptors, a celebrated expatriate figure in 20th century Russian sculpture, and - along with Alexander Archipenko (1887-1964) and Jacques Lipchitz (1891-1973) - one of the most innovative Russian artists of his time.

For a guide to painting and
sculpture from Russia, from
30,000 BCE to 1920,
see: Russian Art.

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Bauhaus Design School

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Early Life

Zadkine was born in Smolensk, Russia in 1890. He came from a professional background which meant his parents could afford to send him to the Regent Street Polytechnic in London at the age of 16. In London he took classes in drawing at night and earned money by making ornamental wood-carving. In 1908 he continued studies at the Central School of Arts and Crafts, where he concentrated his efforts on techniques in wood. He would go through periods in his life working with different materials including wood, stone, marble, terracotta and bronze. His woodworks included materials such as walnut, cedar, elma, acacia, pear and ebony.

While in London Zadkine became friendly with the English painter David Bomberg (1890–1957), whose complex series of geometric compositions combining the influences of Cubism and Futurism (preceding World War I) are considered visionary.

Art Work

The Destroyed City (1953)
Rotterdam City Centre


Two years later Zadkine moved to Paris to study at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. However, he quickly became dissatisfied with what he considered the academy's rigid approach to art, and quit to start his own studio. In Paris he met many of the influential artists and abstract sculptors of his day including Constantin Brancusi (1876-1957), Naum Gabo (1890-1977), Modigliani (1884-1920), Robert Delaunay (1885-1941) and Henri Matisse (1869-1954). In 1912, he met El Lissitzky (1890-1941), his childhood friend from Vitebsk, who was in Paris on a summer visit. He also exhibited at the Salon d'Automne, along with Brancusi and others. In 1914 he held shows at the Freie Sezession in Berlin, the De Onafhankelijken in Amsterdam, and at the Allied Artists Association, London. While based in Paris he studied the works of Picasso and Georges Braque, who between 1907 and 1911 were discovering the first branch of Cubism, known as Analytical Cubism. In 1915, Zadkine joined the War. He was released from duty in 1917 after sustaining injuries.

Inter-War Years

In 1919 Zadkine held his first solo exhibition in Brussels. His early sculptures show demonstrate the influence of Cubism and primitive art. He adapted the boldness of Cubist painting, into simple, angular sculptures. A good example of this is Mother and Child (1912), which sold in 2009 to a private collector. But probably his most famous Cubist works are Woman and Fan (1923, bronze, Zadkine Museum, Paris) and The Beautiful Servant (1926, stone, Zadkine Museum). By the 1930's Zadkine's style had taken on some neoclassical elements and a softer style emerged. He was also highly productive in lithography, showing influences of the Surrealist painter Giorgio de Chirico (1888-1978). The Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco has three excellent examples of lithographs by Zadkine: (1) The Couple (1921, charcoal and black chalk with pastels on paper) (2) The Musicians (1955, colour lithograph) and (3) Peasant Fete (1960, colour lithograph). In 1930 he has an exhibition at the Arts Club of Chicago, mainly gouaches which displayed a new agile, almost baroque style. In 1932, with growing international recognition, Zadkine was awarded several important commissions for relief sculpture on public buildings in Paris, Brussels and Poissy. In 1935 the City of Paris bought his three metre high wooden sculpture Orpheus (now at the Musee d'Art Modern, Paris).

Note About Sculpture Appreciation
To learn how to evaluate modernist Russian sculptors like Ossip Zadkine, see: How to Appreciate Modern Sculpture. For earlier works, please see: How to Appreciate Sculpture.

World War II and New York

Between the years 1941 and 1945, Zadkine lived in New York and taught at the Art Students League. The League was a progressive art school established in 1875 and gave rise to avant-garde artists such as Jackson Pollock. It was one of the first schools to add minimalism, photography and conceptual art to its program. In 1942 he participated in the Artists in Exile Exhibition held at the Pierre Matisse Gallery. Other artists, who were fleeing the persecution of Nazi Germany after the infamous 1937 exhibition of Degenerate Modern Art in Munich, including Marc Chagall, displayed their work.

The Destroyed City

After the war, Zadkine returned to Paris, re-opened his studio and took on students. In 1947 he received one of the most important commissions of his career: the city of Rotterdam ordered a monument to commemorate its near escape from destruction during the war. The bronze sculpture, called The Destroyed City, was a gift from the firm De Bijenkorf in honour of its Jewish employees who perished under Nazi occupation. The initial drawings were displayed at an exhibition at the Museum Boymans in 1949, and received much criticism. However, by the time of it's completion in 1953, the criticism had died down. The monument depicts a mutilated, agonized giant whose abstract limbs bend in painful angles, suggesting an intense inner torment. Since the monument was unveiled, it has become world famous.


In 1960 Zadkine received the Grand Prix at the Venice Biennale and the Grand Prix de la Sculpture of the city of Paris. By the 1960s he had reached the peak of his fame. His works travelled the world in countless exhibitions (including the Tate London and Kunsthaus Zurich), while at home Zadkine worked on graphic prints, book projects and sculptures (including many commissions from cities for statues of Van Gogh). In 1962 he gave a series of popular lectures at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. He died in Paris in 1967, just weeks after a large retrospective exhibition of his plastic art opened at the Bibliotheque Nationale. His former home and studio is now the Zadkine Museum.

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