Carved limestone, 1943. Approximately 343x241x184 mm; 13 1/2x9 1/2x7 1/4 inches. Incised initials at rear lower edge.
Provenance: Charles White, New York; private collection, New York; thence by descent, private collection, New Jersey.
This impressive carving of a young man's head is an important sculpture by Elizabeth Catlett. It is one of only two known stone sculptures made by the artist, and the only work from her seminal 1940s period whose location is known today. The only other recorded stone work is Mother and Child, her 1940 University of Iowa MFA thesis project. The 35 inch high carving in limestone is now sadly missing from the University's collection. In Samella Lewis's monograph, The Art of Elizabeth Catlett, Lewis catalogued just two works for the year 1943: "Abstract Forms, plaster" and "Head, stone". Catlett primarily worked in plaster and terracotta in the late 1930s and 1940s. All four works included in her I am the Negro Woman solo exhibition at the Barnett-Aden Gallery in 1947, Negro Woman, Tired, Pensive and Frustration, were terra cotta.
Elizabeth Catlett's Head stone shows her synthesis of her studies and interest in depicting modern African American subjects in the early 1940s. Melanie Herzog describes Catlett's education at the University of Iowa, and how in her second year of graduate studies, she focused on sculpture - learning several techniques in bronze, stone, wood, terra cotta and plaster. But it was Mother and Child, the centerpiece of her 1940 thesis project, that crystallized many of her interests; as Catlett wrote in her thesis, "stone imposes a certain discipline which cannot be ignored." Her work won First Award in Sculpture in the 1940 American Negro Exhibition in Chicago, and caught the interest of James A. Porter who included an image and description of Mother and Child in his 1943 Modern Negro Art. Porter wrote "it is a pity that this young woman has had so few opportunities to continue her work in stone." In 1942, Herzog describes how after moving to New York, Catlett also studied with the French-Russian emigre and modernist sculptor Ossip Zadkine - taking private lessons from him that summer, while working in terra cotta. Zadkine was also a stone carver, and helped her develop a modernist sense of abstraction in her work by simplifying the forms of the human figure. Head displays Catlett's emerging modern approach to an African-American subjects in the 1940s. Herzog pp. 19-21, 30-34; Porter p. 132; Lewis p. 188.