Gaston Lachaise 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 Artists Françaises and ranking among the top twenty candidates in the competition for the Prix de Rome—all before the age of 21. But in 1906, 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 1912, Lachaise moved permanently to New York, where he was an assistant to Paul Manship, a modernist sculptor. Lachaise abandoned his previous academic style and found his way to modernism through Manship. 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. Lachaise served on the Independent Artists board with Robert Henri, Marcel Duchamp, and Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney. Despite his regard for these creative leaders, Lachaise always stood apart, committed to his own deeply personal vision.
Lachaise exhibited at Alfred Stieglitz’s Intimate Gallery in 1927; and was given a retrospective—the first for a living sculptor—at the Museum of Modern Art in 1935. He was working towards a second retrospective with the Philadelphia Art Alliance, and on a project for Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park Assembly, when he died of leukemia at the age of 53.