Iconoclasm is a genuine recognition of the power of the work of art. Nigel Halliday


Zadkine, Ossip - VM - Koos Sluiter

Zadkine: The Prisoner


Zadkine’s Sculpture Sings the Psalms

by Koos Sluiter

The sculptor Ossip Zadkine was a contemporary in place and time of Marc Chagall. From 1910 Zadkine lived in Paris and France became his second homeland. From 1941 he was exiled for a time in America, just like many other artists and scholars. 

You see here a sculpture taken from three sides, made in 1943 in New York, titled ‘La Prisonnière,’ ‘The Prisoner.’  The singular noun is strange. It is clear that there are three figures in this work. With this sculpture Zadkine wanted to show ‘freely and openly’ – as he himself says – how the German occupation of France has touched him.

The massive bars refer unmistakably to the occupation. Yet, that is only half the story. Zadkine represents France in three different ways here. The figure on the left shows a plaintive face with a bent head and closed eyes. Completely closed off. That changes with the middle sculpture. The arms reach beyond the bars to the outside. The head no longer hangs down but stands solidly on the shoulders. The eyes are open but there is a beam across the mouth. Gagged. The figure on the right is the tallest; the feet are on the outside, the head with chin up moves freely and unhindered. The right hand holds one of the bars like a flagbearer. They are all allusions to ‘Marianne,’ the personification of the French Republic, as on the painting Liberty Leading the People by Delacroix.

The three figures together tell the story of the longing for freedom. It is a story of hope and confidence. That longing, that hope, confidence and trust cannot be locked up. Did Zadkine picture only France or also himself? The Prisoner depicts everyone, the Exodus story, all of humanity. The three figures are within each of us. Sometimes we are the one, sometimes we are the other, as in the Psalms. Zadkine’s sculpture leads us in singing the Psalms.

Out of my distress I called on the Lord;
[and] the Lord answered me.

Psalm 118: 5


Ossip Zadkine: The Prisoner, 1943, bronze, 210 x 70 x 80 cm. Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon, France.

Ossip Zadkine (1888-1967) is considered to be one of the most important sculptors of the twentieth century. He was born in Vitebsk in Belarus. He established himself in Paris in 1910. He eventually became a naturalized French citizen in 1921. That is where he became acquainted with modern art, to which he himself contributed from 1911 with primitive sculptures in stone and wood. Under the influence of Cubism he developed a completely unique style, beginning in the 1920s. During the 1930s his style became ever more dynamic and baroque. During World War II he was exiled in the United States, where his reputation kept growing. After 1945 his expressive sculptures show the resilience of Europe’s reconstruction, giving unique form to Europe’s new ideals.

Koos Sluiter, born in 1946 in Emmen, The Netherlands, has been a pastor since 1970 and retired in 2011. He gives courses and presentations, in which he explores the interplay between faith and art.

ArtWay Visual Meditation January 16, 2022