Zadkine’s sculptures in Paris

Ossip Zadkine (1890-1967) was born in Vitebsk, Belarus.  He moved to England when he was fifteen and then to Paris when he was nineteen.

In Paris he soon became a part of the lively artistic scene in Montparnasse. There he was a regular customer at the café Le Sélect, along with Max Jacob, Jean Cocteau, Guillaume Apollinaire, Pablo Picasso, Amedeo Modigliani, Joan Miró and Chaim Soutine, among many others. For the rest of his life he lived and worked in France, mainly in Paris, except for the years of the Second World War, when he had to flee to the United States to escape from the Nazis.

Sculptures in the garden of the Zadkine Museum

Like the ateliers of his older colleagues Antoine Bourdelle (1861-1929) and Auguste Rodin (1840-1917), the atelier of Ossip Zadkine has been preserved and is now a museum devoted to his works as a sculptor and a painter. In the garden of the museum there are castings of some of his major sculptures.

Torso of the Destroyed City by Zadkine

Included in the garden is a scaled-down version of his “Torso of the Destroyed City”. This is a sculpture he made for the city of Rotterdam, Netherlands, a city that had been largely destroyed by German bombing in the Second World War. 

The Zadkine Museum is located at 100 bis, rue d’Assas, 75006 Paris, behind the Luxembourg Gardens. (Location on the Vélib’ map.) 

The museum belongs to the City of Paris, so admission is free for the permanent exhibits.

The Birth of Forms by Zadkine near Montparnasse Cemetery

The Birth of Forms and the Montparnasse Tower

After visiting the Zadkine Museum you might like to see some of his sculptures in the wild, so to speak. The closest one that I know of is less than one kilometer from the museum (a ten-minute walk or a five-minute bicycle ride) on Boulevard Edgar Quinet at the corner of Boulevard Raspail, just outside the Montparnasse Cemetery. (Location on the Vélib’ map.) 

Zadkine created this sculpture, The Birth of Forms, in 1947, after returning to France from his wartime exile in the United States. (However, the label on the base of the statue gives the date as 1958.) 

Zadkine’s grave in Montparnasse Cemetery

It happens that Zadkine is buried in Montparnasse Cemetery, not far from The Birth of Forms.

Zadkine’s Prometheus at Place Saint-Germain-des-Prés

Less than two km north of the Zadkine Museum, at Place Saint-Germain-des-Prés (an easy ten-minute bicycle ride via Rue d’Assas and Rue de Rennes), there is a casting of Zadkine’s sculpture showing Prometheus bringing fire to the people, as he did in ancient Greek mythology.

(Location of Place Saint-Germain-des-Prés on the Vélib’ map.) 

When I first saw this Prometheus sculpture at Place Saint-Germain-des-Prés it seemed strangely familiar to me, but I didn’t know why. Much later I realized that another casting of this same sculpture is on display in the University Library in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, where I live and where I studied.

Zadkine’s Return of the Prodigal Son at Place de l’Italie

Return of the Prodigal Son

Only slightly further away from the Zadkine Museum (about 2 ½ km to the southeast) is another sculpture of his, The Return of the Prodigal Son, which is on display in front of the City Hall of the 13th arrondissement at Place de l’Italie.

To get there from the museum, just ride down Rue d’Assas to Port Royal and get onto the bus-and-bike lane of Boulevard de Port Royal going east. Turn right at Avenue des Gobelins and you’ll soon be there.

(Location of Place de l’Italie on the Vélib’ map.)  

Waiting for the bride and groom at the City Hall of the 13th

In this photo Zadkine’s statue is off to the left by the palm tree, but the people in front of the City Hall aren’t paying any attention to it because they are waiting for the bride and groom to come out after their marriage ceremony.

Nowadays, if you say a couple was “married in town hall of the thirteenth” it just means they both said oui (yes) here in this building on Place de l’Italie.

Until 1860, however, Paris only had twelve arrondissements, so in those days if you said a couple had been “married in the town hall of the thirteenth” it meant they weren’t married at all, but were living together out of wedlock — living in concubinage, as the French would say.

When the time came to enlarge the city and add eight more arrondissements, the folks over to the west in Auteuil and Passy were supposed to get the number 13, but they refused, not because they were superstitious but because they didn’t want people making jokes about their marital status.

Then as now, the people living over at that end of town were wealthy and powerful, so they succeeded in getting the number 16 for their elegant new arrondissement, and the number 13 went to the poor working-class folks over here on the banks of the Bièvre River. (More about that river some other time).

My photos in this post are from 2013 and 2014. I revised the text in 2017.

10 thoughts on “Zadkine’s sculptures in Paris”

  1. Interesting story about the 13th arrondissement. Never heard that one before

    A few years ago I happened to see the ‘Torso of the Destroyed City’ in Rotterdam and got to find out more about Zadkine,, but I have to confess that his work in Paris has eluded me so far.

    1. I am not recoiling in disbelief, which just goes to show that I am neither an art critic nor a connoisseur. But I do like Zadkine’s style, whatever it is.

  2. In Scotland they had a much more plain way of referring to concubinage – Bidie In meaning the intimate person that you abide with. Here in Texas there is a common law marriage and if you have lived together long enough you have to get a divorce as opposed to just separating. Wonderful shots.

  3. Don, don’t you remember people, especially women, saying, “That old bidie?” Because the live-in partner was considered wilder than the average house wife was considered, their use of the word bidie turned it to have a derogatory meaning.

    My friend in Paris entered into a “Civil Union” with her boyfriend. would that be the same as, “concubinage?”

    1. In my childhood it seems to me that “that old bidie” just meant an unpleasant elderly woman, usually living alone and not with a partner.
      I’m not sure what a “Civil Union” means in France, but I don’t think it’s the same as concubinage. Lots of people in France just get married in the City Hall but not in church.

  4. I first met Zadkine at Place Saint-Germain-des-Prés when I spotted his Prometheus and found it amazing across from the ancient church. I’ll have to look for the others you’ve shown. Sounds like a fun project.

    You can actually step across the river Bièvre in the grounds of the Château Fougères-sur-Bièvre in the town of the same name. It’s one of my favorite castles, very medieval and with a resident cat.

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