Ossip Zadkine (1890-1967)

Le Retour du fils prodigue

Ossip Zadkine, Le Retour du Fils Prodigue, 1954, Patinated bronze, Collection Triton FoundationOssip Zadkine was born to a Jewish father and a mother of Scottish origin in the Belarusian town of Vitebsk. There he received his first drawing lessons from Yehuda Penn, who also counted Marc Chagall among his pupils. From 1905 to 1909, Zadkine lived in England, where he was trained as a furniture maker and concentrated on wood carving. In 1909 he emigrated to Paris. In his early years there, he moved from address to address in Montparnasse and stayed at La Ruche for a time. His classes at the École des Beaux Arts were not dynamic enough for his taste, and he soon decided to move on. Only Rodin's work won a degree of admiration from Zadkine. At the Louvre, he saw Egyptian sculptures for the first time, and was profoundly inspired by them. His encounters with Cubism, Picasso, the Delaunays, Constantin Brancusi, and Jacques Lipchitz also influenced his artistic development. Between 1911 and 1914, Zadkine took part in a number of Salons in Paris, and from 1913 onwards he also exhibited in London, Berlin, and Amsterdam. He used the direct carving technique, and his lyrical works were characterized by verticals, curves, and long, slender stylized hands. He met Modigliani in 1915, and the two men became lasting friends.

In 1920, Zadkine held his first solo exhibition of sculptures, drawings, and gouaches at his studio in Paris. Over the years, his work became increasingly monumental, and he had more and larger sculptures cast in bronze. Despite his success in other countries, such as Belgium and the Netherlands, Zadkine remained poor and had to give lessons to earn money. He proved to be a gifted teacher, and countless sculptors spent time at his studio.

In 1940, he fled to America for fear of Nazi persecution, and in 1943 he produced his first sculpture on a war-related theme, La Prisonnière. After returning from America in 1946, Ossip Zadkine worked at his Paris studio in Rue d'Assas until his death in 1967. It is now the Musée Zadkine.

In the Netherlands, Zadkine is best known for the sculpture La Ville  détruite (Demolished City), unveiled in Rotterdam in 1953. Le Retour du fils prodigue (Return of the Prodigal Son) dates from the same period and displays the same abstract figurative style. This sculpture was modelled in 1950, and in 1954 five numbered bronzes were cast at Susse Fondeur in Paris, along with three artist's proofs.