William Zorach: Spirit of the Sculptor

The Art Deco sculpture that launched the artist's career

Learn more about the renowned Lithuanian sculptor and Spirit of the Dance.

11/22/2021     News and Film, American Art

Renowned sculptor William Zorach was born in Lithuania at the turn of the twentieth century; his sculptural output would come to emblematize Cubist and Fauvist sculpture and grace prominent private and public collections internationally. After moving to New York City in the 1910s, Zorach would pursue sculpture experimentally and enthusiastically following years of focusing on painting. Zorach and his wife Marguerite, both prolific artists, came to regularly exhibit their work throughout the city.


Zorach 1

Lot 36 | William Zorach, Spirit of the Dance | $100,000-150,000

Zorach’s big break came in the early 1930s, when the newly constructed Radio City Music Hall sought sculpture commissions to grace its now-iconic Art Deco building in Midtown Manhattan. In response, Zorach submitted Spirit of the Dance—a bold bronze standing over six feet tall that stirred up as much controversy as fame for Zorach, given the nudity of the figure depicted. Outcry over the work led to its disappearance for some time, but its later popularity and positive critical reception led to its subsequent return to Radio City Music Hall, where it remains today.


Zorach 2

Lot 36 | William Zorach, Spirit of the Dance | $100,000-150,000

The present Spirit of the Dance, featured in Freeman’s December 5 American Art and Pennsylvania Impressionists auction (Lot 36), is one of an edition of six bronzes authorized by the artist. Presented at a pre-sale estimate of $100,000-150,000, Spirit of the Dance is a rare opportunity for buyers to collect one of the very few bronzes ever made of this elegant work.


Zorach 3

Lot 36 | William Zorach, Spirit of the Dance (detail) | $100,000-150,000

“In this figure,” said Zorach of the sculpture, “I have attempted to express the feeling of a young alive spirited woman goddess yet animal. There is always the feeling for movement and form voluminous rhythmic and dynamic which I try to express.” Eliciting several different readings—literally and emotionally—depending on what angle the viewer is in relation to the work, the sculpture is bold and unflinching, as vital and energetic today as it was when it was selected by the Rockefellers in the 1930s.

Spirit of the Dance isn’t the only work by Zorach to greet audiences outside more conventional art spaces; his Mother and Child graces the campus of the University of Wisconsin at Madison, The Spirit of the Sea can be seen in Zorach’s adopted home of Bath, Maine, and Puma can be found in Philadelphia’s own Fairmount Park. Zorach was as inspired by the tranquility of his home in coastal Maine as by the energy and activity of New York City, where he taught sculpture at the Art Students League for over thirty years. He continued to work until his death in 1966, whereupon he left behind a legacy of sculptural mastery, from Spirit of the Dance and beyond.




View the rest of our December 5 auction, American Art and Pennsylvania Impressionists Featuring the Collection of Virginia and Stuart Peltz.



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