About this artwork
This work is often referred to as large Man of the Night, probably to distinguish it from a closely related, but smaller version (see Chicago, Allan Frumkin Gallery, The Sculpture of Germaine Richier: First American Exhibition, 1954, exh. cat., no. 19 (ill.), as Man of the Night). The sculpture seems originally to have been simply called Man of the Night; the qualification “large” first appeared in parentheses, following the title, in the 1959 exhibition at the Musée Grimaldi, Chateau d’Antibes, the first major retrospective of Richier’s work to follow her death earlier that year. It would seem, therefore, that this qualification should not be considered an integral element of the title. Three other, smaller sculptures, bearing the same title and date as the Bergman cast are recorded in the catalogue of a recent retrospective (see Paris 1996, p. 207, nos. 65–68). The ones reproduced (nos. 65 and 67) are of a distinctly different design.
During the 1950s, Richier created various hybrids by “crossing human species with other organisms, animal and vegetable” (David Sylvester, “On Germaine Richier,” in London, Hanover Gallery, Germaine Richier, 1955, exh. cat., n. pag.). Sylvester perceived these sculptures as an assault on the human body, a test of what it can endure and still remain human. As Sylvester noted, “for Richier the assertion of the human image does not depend on creating…fine, noble effigies of unadulterated man. For her, the assertion of the human image is achieved through its denial. Hers is a human image challenged, battered, ruined, and still obstinately human” (ibid.). Paul Guth’s description of Man of the Night in his studio interview with Richier, draws attention, moreover, to another kind of tension in this work, between the figure’s winged and earthbound qualities: “We come to The Man of the Night. He has a bat’s head, triangle-shape. Stumps of wings rise from his back. He grips the earth with leaden paws. He has to! If he hadn’t such heavy paws his wings would bear him aloft” (Guth 1957–58, p. 82).
Here the most human aspects of the figure are the lower part of the body and its heavy, lumpen limbs. The tension between the figure’s lower half and the raised wings may refer to the struggle to remain “human,” to which Sylvester alluded, and which characterized an anxious postwar Europe. The wings, which we might at first associate with the elevated and aspiring in man, are upon further observation clearly those of a bat and, like the head, the least rather than the most human aspect of the figure. Furthermore, the outspread wings here recall the image that, in Western tradition, symbolizes human sacrifice and divine redemption most vividly: the Crucifixion. Finally, the entire surface of the sculpture is scarred by a web of interlocking, incised lines, an effect Richier possibly derived from her drawing technique of this period (see Paris 1996, pp. 198–99, nos. 118–19, ills.). In Man of the Night, Richier suggested that there is no simple opposition between the base and the elevated, the earthbound and the heavenly, the human and the animal.
— Entry, Dawn Ades, Surrealist Art: The Lindy and Edwin Bergman Collection at the Art Institute of Chicago, 1997, p. 220–21.
- Germaine Richier
- Man of the Night
- 28 3/4 × 32 1/2 × 12 1/4 in. (73 × 82.5 × 31.1 cm)
- Lindy and Edwin Bergman Collection
- © 2008 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris