Joseph Csaky’s La Liseuse exemplifies the artist’s transitioning sculptural style during the late 1930s and 1940s. Though he was influenced by Cubist figural, Csaky was also a great admirer of classic forms in Greek and Egyptian sculpture. His avid museum-going tendencies and a notable 1935 journey to Greece provided a lens through which Csaky came to view Cubism as modern classicism. Csaky infused his marble onyx and rock crystal sculptures with abstract elements during the years prior to World War II, only to return to the figure in the late 1930s. At this time, his bronze depictions of the female form were expressively curvaceous, shedding his previously more angular sculptural approach. La Liseuse demonstrates Csaky’s adaptation of the female form, beautifully.

Joseph Csaky briefly studied at the decorative arts school in Budapest, but preferred to work alone, influenced primarily by Rodin. In 1908 he traveled on foot from Hungary to Paris and worked from models posing in the free academies. At this time, the post-Romantic lyricism of Rodin was being succeeded by the rigorous plenitude and heightened sensuality of Maillol, and especially the Cubist artists. In 1911, Csaky was one of them, and exhibited with the Cubists at the Salon d’Automne and the Salon des Artistes Independents, which officially recognized the young movement. He also took part in the Salon de la Societe Nationale des Beaux-Arts and the Salon des Tuileries. After WWI, during which he fought with the French army, though he remained anchored to the human form, his enquiry into line and volume led him to the edge of Abstraction. He returned, however, to the observation of nature, primarily the human body. Nevertheless, he remained attached to the rigor of the construction of forms that characterized post-Cubism, particularly that of the Ecole de Paris between the wars.

When he returned from war, Abstraction was beginning to appear in Parisian artistic circles, still strongly under the influence of Cubism. From 1919 on, Csaky carved structures of cylinders, cones, and spheres, and his abstract period lasted several years. After 1928, he returned to a stylized realism, with very tense lines. Csaky was a keen museum goer and his own works often showed the influence – through the Cubist filter of Egyptian and Greek sculpture which he saw on his travels. He sculpted in various media, but mainly in hard materials including marble onyx and rock crystal until WWII, after which many of his works were in bronze.

Csaky’s work is emblematic of the best of the Ecole de Paris of between the wars, its sensitivity, its exclusive anchorage to Cubism, and its exploration of Abstraction. He took part in international exhibitions, including in Germany (1932) and in Holland (1933). Later, in 1956, he finally had the chance to execute two large low reliefs for a school in Amiens.


Paris - National Museum of Modern Art