Archaic Figure (Goddess from the Great Beyond)

Accession Number

Archaic Figure (Goddess from the Great Beyond)

Louise Nevelson

Artist Nationality
American (North American)

Object Creation Date

Medium & Support
etching with aquatint and hand coloring on beige wove paper

15 3/4 x 11 5/8 in. (40 x 29.4 cm);28 1/8 x 22 1/8 in. (71.28 x 56.04 cm);15 3/4 x 11 5/8 in. (40 x 29.4 cm);13 5/8 x 7 15/16 in. (34.6 x 20.1 cm)

Credit Line
Museum purchase made possible by a gift from Helmut Stern

Label copy
During the 1940s and early 50s, Louise Nevelson's work evolved slowly toward what is thought of as her characteristic style: large-scale painted reliefs, usually black, composed of wood scraps arranged inside box-like units. Her work as a printmaker played a significant role in this evolution.
In 1947, Nevelson worked at Stanley William Hayter's Atelier 17, a studio promoting the use of etching as a medium. She found Hayter's style confining, however, and left the studio, only to return in 1953, after Hayter departed for England. In the short period that followed, she produced a large number of inventive prints. These works encompassed many influences, including her time as an assistant to Mexican muralist Diego Rivera, her experiences with the European Surrealist tradition, and exposure to the ideas of Carl Jung and to Pre-Columbian art.
In Archaic Figure (Goddess from the Great Beyond), Nevelson combines a seemingly arbitrary use of line and discrete tones in random shapes to create spatial ambiguities. The interplay of close values creates a series of relative depths, revealing Nevelson's interest in the sculptural qualities present in the print medium. The depth of the etched line and the relatively heavy inking also hint at her interest in collage, which is more fully realized in her famous sculptural assemblages. At the same time, there exists something basic and primal in this figure—an inhabitant from another time and place—which is well in keeping with the work’s title.
Sean M. Ulmer, University Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, on the occasion of the exhibition The New York School: Abstract Expressionism and Beyond, July 20, 2002 – January 19, 2003

In 1947 Nevelson made prints briefly in Hayter’s Atelier 17 in New York. She found his traditional and exacting approach restricting, and left the studio to return in 1953 after the master’s departure. While the other Nevelson etching displayed nearby was printed years later by a master printer, this proof was pulled and hand-colored by Nevelson herself. Eschewing the pristine perfectionism of Hayter’s approach, she favored a more casual, even clumsy, effect. The artist also called this print Figure Four Thousand.
Label copy from exhibition "Dreamscapes: The Surrealist Impulse," August 22 - October 25, 1998

Primary Object Classification

Collection Area
Modern and Contemporary

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modern and contemporary art

2 Related Resources

Art of interest to Judaic Studies
(Part of 3 Learning Collections)
Occult Mysticism in Western Art
(Part of 4 Learning Collections)

& Author Notes

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