Zadkine Museum

Sensibilization visit

SAMA For All took part into a sensibilization visit at the Zadkine Museum, or order to prepare its future coming with the program’s beneficiaries.

This visit was an occasion to discover the sculptor’s workshop and house, an intimate place of life and creation in Paris’s 6th arrondissement, reflecting the “Montparnasse of artists” at the beginning of the 20th century.

The « Montparnasse of artists »

At the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century, the Montparnasse neighborhood was a place for the artistic and intellectual world to meet.

The artists who lived there met up to worl together, at the heart of Parisian culture’s effervescence.

This was the case of Zadkine, Modiglinani, Chagall, an many others, who lived a bohemian life in Montparnasse, before becoming famomus.

(According to Danielle Malka, national guide,

  • Zadkine, one of the big names of 20th century sculpture

Ossip Zadkine (1888-1967) was born in Russia, on the 4th of July 1888, in Vitebsk (currently Bielorussia). He grew up in an environment influenced by the Daugava (river that flows through Latvia, Belorussia and Russia) and the forest, and build a specific bond with nature. At 12 years old, he discovered modeling and started doing it with (loam).

In 1905, Zadkine is sent to England, where he started studying at the Sunderland School of Arts (North-East of England) and discovered wood sculpture. The following year, he followed a friend to London, where he worked with several craftsmen/women to support himself. Back in Russia several years later, he started direct carving sculptures.

Direct carving is an approach to making carved sculpture where the actual process of carving suggests the final form rather than a carefully worked out preliminary model. (

Zadkine arrived in Paris in 1910, in the latin neighborhood. He studied at the Academy for Fine-Arts for 6 months before fully practicing outside of the institution.

  • Permanent collection

The lecturer presented Zadkine’s work on wood, stone and bronze. The first works exposed, using the direct carving technique, reflect Zadkine’s interest for primitive arts.

Primitive arts

Native peoples art – also called primitive arts – have useful functions. Drawings and sculptures are considered like magical creations, objects of protection (E.H. Gombrich, Art History, Phaidon, 2001, 688 p.).

The « primitive » is understood as closer to the starting point of humanity, in opposition with « modern » as defined in the western world.

The term « primitivism » was coined at the end of the 19th century. First, this term designates American, African or Oceanian objects seen through the lens of the western world. There is a moral and aesthetic  judgement towards primitive art works at the time when they appear in Europe at the beginning of the 20th century.

There is no primitivism without the influx of artistic objects coming from Africa or Oceania. This influx took place during colonization, which means that numerous robberies took place against these artists. (Philippe Dagen, « Primitive art, a modern art? », France Culture, 2019).

  • The 1920-25 years and cubism

Zadkine later focused on finding different ways of representing the human body, especially during his cubist era in the 1920s. He breaks codes thanks to his unique approach to volumes, with very little details.


Cubism is one of the most important modern art movements of the beginning of the 20th century. Created under the influence of Paul Cézanne, by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, cubism was built in a small circle before other painters were interested.

Cubism offers a real deconstruction of the real world without ever getting abstract. The topics are often borrowed from the everyday life. Cubism does not attempt to erase representation but to transform it. Cubist artists invite spectators to see nature as geometric shapes.

The « Large Water Carrier » is very noticeable in the second room. It is near a picture of the artist who strikes the pose next to this majestic 3-meters tall piece.

By deconstructing space and volumes, Zadkine offers another reading of the body, with portraits very often cut in geometric shapes. The sculptor likes playing with the flaws of the material he uses. He mainly sculpts outside of volumes, without working the material that much.

Zadkine, « Rebecca or the Great Water Carrier », 1927, Legs Valentine Prax, painted plaster.

The Accordionist » is a moulded work. This sculpture shows a cubist orientation. Zadkine recognized the influence of Picasso and Braque’s painting on his work.

The accordion, by its play on lines, gives rhythm the composition and underlines the geometrization effect. This piece marks Zadkine’s most cubist point. The formal rigor is determined by the introduction of the accordion, a typical cubist accessory, strengthened by the fact that Zadkine recalls its shape throughout the human figure.

Zadkine, « The Accordionist », 1922 – 1926, bronze, test 2/5, Susse fondeur, Paris, © Fr. Cochennec and E. Emo / Zadkine museum / Roger-Viollet

  • The garden and its moulded works

The visit continues through a path in the garden in the workshop-museum, with bronze sculptures, made from moulded works. The themes of wood, forest and growth are representative of Zadkine’s work.

Between 1926 and 1941, Zadkine made plaster and clay models, that were casted in bronze. He then develops his style by merging human and vegetal element, thereby producing unique works.

Zadkine created the « Human Forest » when he came back from his exile in the United States.

He then worked on the entanglement between humans and plants, playing on fullness and void, shapes that oppose or complete each other. He aimed to create a nature formed by a group of characters, linked to each other by plants.

Zadkine, « The Human Forest », 1957 – 1958, bronze, test 1/6, Susse fondeur, Paris, Zadkine museum, garden

Later, he became interested in mythological topics, with works such as « The Birth of Venus » or « Orpheus ».

Zadkine considered as one of the pioneers of the introduction of modern art in the public space.

The memories of cities destroyed by war – The Havre, Rotterdam – motivate him to work on the project of the monument of « The Destroyed City ». The townhall of Rotterdam (Netherlands) commissions this monument in 1950.

In total, Zadkine made 593 sculptures : wood (131), stone and marble (112), clay (132), plaster and bronzes.

His memoirs are published in the « Le maillet et le ciseau : souvenirs de ma vie », Albin Michel, 1968.

Zadkine, « Orpheus », 1956, Bronze, test 1/6, Susse fondeur, Paris, Zadkine museum, garden