Nasher Collection:Sculptures by Raoul Hague

Nasher Sculpture Center
Jan 24, 2017 7:03PM

In 2013, the Raoul Hague Foundation generously donated two major works by Hague to the Nasher Sculpture Center, where this winter they will go on public view for the first time. The Abstract Expressionist sculptor Raoul Hague (American, born in Turkey, 1904-1993) worked in wood, using the modernist practice of taille directe (direct carving), with its attendant respect for the natural properties of sculptural materials and the rejection of preparatory studies and models. Long considered an “artist’s artist,” Hague lived largely away from the limelight of the art world, in Woodstock, New York, where he settled in the 1940s. There, finding the local stone too hard for carving, Hague began to work in wood.

Drawing inspiration from the natural forms of the trees that provided his material, Hague worked intuitively, using hand tools to respond to the wood’s dips and angles yet also working against it to undercut and transform it. Although he was friends with a number of artists, including Philip Guston, Bradley Walker Tomlin, and the photographer Lee Friedlander, Hague relished his solitude and worked without assistants, developing a system of winches and wheeled platforms that allowed him to handle the sculptures alone and move them in and out of his studio and storages (see photo of Untitled, opposite). His creative process began with the material itself—the trees of the region. Hague did not cut down trees himself; instead, he relied on local contacts to let him know when a large tree had been cut down, or when a large specimen arrived at a lumberyard. Mills saved parts of trees they couldn’t use, such as sections of the trunk containing notches or forks, resulting in distinctive shapes to which Hague would respond as he began to carve. Hague proceeded without sketches or studies, responding to the wood as if to a person: “You make one cut, then you become intimate. That thing becomes humanized, a being. It becomes a part of my life for the next three or four months. I do my chores around it. I drink evenings, looking at the progress of my work during the day.”

Raoul Hague, Untitled, 1972, Wood, 65 x 48 x 40 in. (165.1 x 121.9 x 101.6 cm.), Nasher Sculpture Center, Gift of the Raoul Hague Foundation

Raoul Hague, Stillwater, 1952, Wood, 30 x 46 in. (76.2 x 116.8 cm.), Nasher Sculpture Center, Gift of the Raoul Hague Foundation      

The earlier work given to the Nasher, Stillwater (1952), is a significant historical addition to the collection, where it joins dynamically composed sculptures by Hague’s New York peers, such as David Smith and Willem de Kooning. In addition, in its lingering suggestion of the torso of a recumbent figure, Stillwater also resonates with the Nasher’s sculptures by artists of an earlier generation, including Aristide Maillol and Henri Matisse. Works in the vein of Stillwater first brought Hague to critical attention, leading to his inclusion in the Museum of Modern Art’s important 1956 Twelve Americans exhibition and Leo Steinberg’s thoughtful essay on his art—one of the few texts on sculpture ever written by the respected critic and scholar.

The second gift, an untitled sculpture in walnut from 1972, comes from Hague’s later career and powerfully demonstrates the artist’s monumental contribution to contemporary sculpture. This work exemplifies Hague’s transformative mastery of massive natural forms. Truly a sculpture in the round, it provides an exciting and dramatic instance of his ability to create a composition that unites multiple disparate views. With the addition of these two key works, Hague joins the ranks of other artists in the Nasher’s collection to be represented by more than one work, including Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Medardo Rosso, Alberto Giacometti, and David Smith. Having multiple objects by the same artist enables visitors to see how an individual’s vision both persists and changes over time. Our understanding of Hague’s formidable achievements as a sculptor can only be heightened by this striking pair of works.

by Catherine Craft, Ph.D., Nasher Sculpture Center Curator

Nasher Sculpture Center