We thank the Fondation Arp, Clamart for their help cataloguing this work.
Jean Arp was a prolific poet—the many poems that he began to compose in his teens and continued to write and publish throughout his career account for the greater number of pages in his collected writings. “I was bewitched by the word,” he wrote in 1955. “I wandered through many things, creatures, worlds, and appearances began to slide, to grow and to be transformed as in fairy tales” (quoted in H. Read, op. cit., 1968, p. 142). As metaphor was key to Arp’s imagination in verse, so metamorphosis became instrumental in his creation of sculpture and pictorial art. Nu aux bourgeons asserts the metaphorical relationship between the ostensibly dissimilar states of being human and plantlike, embodied in a metamorphosis of plastic elements that expresses the symbolic integration of the female nude and the life of a plant.
Nu aux bourgeons is a young woman in the flowering of her youthful fecundity. Her slender, supple figure torques sunward like a plant stem sprung from the earth, pulsing with life. Buds emerge at two bulging nodes, revealing her burgeoning sexuality. The plastic tensions within her twisting form imply continuing growth, a state of unceasing becoming. A similar impetus is evident in Brancusi’s La colonne sans fin, in geometric rather than organic terms, in which the modular repetition of rhomboid elements infers the potential for endless multiplication and unlimited height.
Art must be infused, Arp believed, with the sense of wonderment inherent in poetry and myth. The conflation of woman and blossoming plant originated in the fertility myths of ancient agrarian societies. The many early tales that the Roman poet Ovid gathered and retold in his Metamorphoses—“Now I shall tell you of things that change, new being out of old”—have inspired countless artists and writers from the Renaissance to the present day. Ovid recounted the transformation of the nymph Daphne, who in fleeing the unwelcome ardor of the god Apollo, beseeched her father, a river deity, to turn her into a tree: “Growing in earth she stood, white thighs embraced by climbing bark, her fair head swaying in a cloud of leaves” (trans. Horace Gregory).
“Art is a fruit that grows in man, like a fruit on a plant, or a child in its mother’s womb,” Arp declared (quoted in C. Giedion-Welcker, Jean Arp, London, 1957, p. xxvii). He invoked in his work the essential organic forces of growth and decay, because he believed nature to be moral and always true. The vision that he expressed in his art was that of human existence fully integrated within the processes of nature.
Another cast of the present sculpture is in the Raymond and Patsy Nasher Collection. Plasters are in the Von der Heydt Museum and the Stiftung Hans Arp und Sophie Taweuber Arp.