William Zorach was one of a small number of American sculptors who broke with academic tradition and embraced modernism during the volatile period between the two world wars. This idealized bust portrait of his wife Marguerite, an equally accomplished artist, was Zorach’s first important sculpture, begun only a year after he took up the chisel. He employed the method of “direct carving,” working without preparatory studies, guided by the inherent possibilities of the stone and the careful observation of the model. In its day, this commanding portrait bust epitomized a contemporary classicism that aimed for authenticity and purity of form through references to archaic Greek sculpture. Yet by leaving rough chisel marks on the sculpture’s surface, particularly in the bust’s hair, Zorach had also established a modern sculptural language that acknowledged the artistic process.
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