“The power of the machine imposes itself upon us and we can scarcely conceive living bodies without it.”
My favorite sculpture – one I have gazed upon many times in the Nasher Sculpture Center, here in Dallas, is Large Horse by Raymond Duchamp-Villon. I wrote about it more than three years ago.
At the time I said:
I like to stare at it, walk around it. I’ve taken some pictures of it. I would like to take some more.
To me, it’s clear that it is a statue of a horse – but that horse has been morphed into a complex machine, full of pushrods, pistons, and gears. It has an impressive, solid bulk, but feels like it is about to propel itself out through the glass and speed down the street in a blur, smelling of ozone and oil.
It is cast in very dark bronze – almost black. It swallows a lot of the light, but what does escape is subdued by the power and mass of the horse. It shines with dark energy.
The sculptor was a cavalry doctor in World War I and must have had a close relationship, knowledge, and a deep connection with his horses. He chose this animal to convert into a cubist bronze. He was able to preserve the essential horseness of the shape while implying the obsolescence of the animal – overtaken by the more powerful, rugged, and easily controlled energy of machines.
Duchamp-Villon died too young. He contracted typhoid fever during the war. He died before he finished this sculpture. All he left was the finished small scale model. After his death, his famous brother, Marcel Duchamp (Nude Descending a Staircase) finished the job and had the sculpture cast in full-sized bronze.
Over the holidays, I was in Houston to visit my mother and my sister and her family and was pleased to discover another Duchamp-Villon’s Large Horse in the Cullen Sculpture Garden at the Houston Museum of Fine Art.
It was like running into an old friend unexpectedly.