Antoine Pevsner, Column of Peace

Antoine Pevsner, Column of Peace, 1954. Bronze, 53 × 35-1/2 × 19-3/4 inches. Lent by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Alex Hillman Family Foundation, in memory of Richard Alan Hillman, 1981 (1981.326). Photo by Paul Bardagjy.

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Valerie Fletcher: Antoine Pevsner was born in Russia in 1886. As a young man he set out to be a painter. His brother named Naum Gabo, was a sculptor. Pevsner studied in Paris from 1911 to 1914, the time when the revolutionary new movements of Cubism and Futurism were emerging among young artists. Pevsner took these ideas back with him when he returned to Russia at the end of World War I. There the Bolsheviks had overthrown the Czarist regime and had instituted at least in the first years an optimistic plan to change society to a more egalitarian and constructive mode. Of course this changed soon, but in those years between 1918 and 1923, the idea was that they could create monuments to a great future.

It wasn’t until after World War II that Pevsner really hit his stride. In the sculpture Column of Peace from 1954, Pevsner put into visual form the ideas of the Futurists which was that art could convey energy, convey a sense of optimism and progress and hope, and that in abstraction these could be conveyed through dynamic thrusting elements, linear elements that point usually upward and outward and that is what you see in the Column of Peace. Pevsner hoped that this medium-sized sculpture would eventually be enlarged and placed as a monument, a column to peace forevermore. His ideas and the upward hopefulness of this work is still apparent in small scale.

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Antoine Pevsner, Column of Peace, 1954.

French, born in Russia, 1886-1962

Antoine Pevsner began his career as a painter. A sojourn in Paris from 1911 to 1914 introduced him to cubism and futurism, two radical new approaches to making art. After the Soviet Union withdrew from World War I in 1917 and the threat of a draft was over, Pevsner and his brother, sculptor Naum Gabo, returned to Moscow to participate in the utopian fervor of building a new egalitarian society. Pevsner began sculpting works that could, in theory, be adapted for use in architecture and urban design projects to serve the general public. His sculptures were strongly influenced by his brother’s innovative constructions and were small in scale due to severe shortages of materials in the fledgling Soviet Union.

In 1923 Pevsner immigrated permanently to France. In the exhilarating art environment of Paris, he joined other artists who endorsed the new aesthetics of geometric abstraction. Early in the twentieth century, the Italian futurists had conceived the basics of a visual language for the new Machine Age. Their ideas were widely disseminated throughout Europe and the Americas by the mid-1920s. Pevsner developed a style based on convex and concave forms, primarily funnel-shaped vortices; he adopted the futurist emphasis on diagonal linear elements, originally known as “lines of force.” Such art was suppressed during the Nazi occupation of France during World War II but reemerged strongly in the early 1950s.

After the devastation and destruction of seven years of combat and oppression, Europeans intensely hoped for a lasting peace as they rebuilt their lives and their countries. Column of Peace was conceived as a maquette for a large memorial that was never completed. The sculpture consists of intersecting, upwardly rising diagonals. To viewers familiar with the original utopian meanings underlying abstract art, the message is one of hope for progress. By the time Pevsner conceived his Column of Peace, this abstract language was widely understood in the art world.

Antoine Pevsner, Column of Peace, 1954. Photo by Paul Bardagjy.
Antoine Pevsner, Column of Peace, 1954 Photo by Ben Aqua.

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