Gaston Lachaise (1882 – 1935) was born in Paris in 1882. He entered the École Bernard Palissy at the age of 13 to study sculpture, completed the four-year program in three years, and enrolled at L’Academie Nationale des Beaux-Arts at the age of 16. For someone quite young, Lachaise enjoyed unusual successes, among them four acceptances to the Salon des Artistes Français and ranking among the top twenty candidates in the competition for the Prix de Rome—all before the age of 21. But in 1905, Lachaise gave up his pursuit of academic honors to follow his great love, a Canadian-American woman, Isabel Dutaud Nagle, to America.
First settling in Boston in 1906, Lachaise moved permanently to New York, where he was an assistant to the sculptor Paul Manship. Lachaise abandoned his previous academic style and found his way to modernism. Although he made many portrait busts, he was best known for his standing nude female figures, robust despite their small size, seldom more than ten inches tall. One figure was included in the Armory Show of 1913. Lachaise modeled his figures in clay or plasticene, preserved them in plaster, and set them aside for later casting in bronze. These early female figures are romantic and introspective, but full-bodied, prideful, and voluptuous. His sculpture is extremely refined, composed of generously proportioned, smoothly shaped forms that flow into each other, emphasizing their graceful contours.
Lachaise belonged to the generation of Picasso, Braque and Brancusi, who had revolutionized European art. In the United States, he counted among his friends the leaders of American modernism, artists such as Joseph Stella, John Sloan, John Marin, Marsden Hartley, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Alfred Stieglitz, as well as the poets Hart Crane and E.E. Cummings. Yet, Lachaise always stood apart, committed to his own deeply personal vision.
At the height of his career, Lachaise tragically died of Leukemia at the age of 53, leaving a vast collection of work, and plasters, safeguarded for so many years by his widow, and later the Lachaise Foundation.