Despair, 1909

Bas relief figure

A nude young man stands on a flat rock, side-view, facing to his right. He arches backward with his face turned up, his right arm bent with his unseen hand on the right side of his head. The left fist is clenched on a straight arm behind him and the upper trapezius muscle is clearly tensed above his shoulder from the stress. He stands on a forward left foot with the heel of the right foot lifted so the weight rests on the toes slightly behind the left limb and partially hidden by it. The legs are very muscular with a locked left knee making the quadriceps bulge just above the patella and toward the top of the thigh, covering his genitalia. The left arm is also muscular and defined. The buttocks are clenched so that there is a depression in the lateral hip. The lower abdomen is taut and above it on the side the ribs show clearly. The lower edge of the pectoral muscle stretches across to the deltoid and the line of the sternum extends upward through the SCM muscle to the ear. That line forms a V shape with the pectorals of the right arm seen partially in perspective. He has a full head of wavy hair with the longer hair blowing behind his head, carved into the base layer of clay. His features are clear and expressive for such a small size, the emotion clearly showing in the face and the attitude of the pose.

The outline of the body is clear all the way around the figure, clearly separating it from the slightly textured ground. The shape of the plaque is rectangular with rounded corners, narrower on the bottom with a curved groove cut away on three sides to form a border, leaving the top to blend with the background. At the base above the border, the rock on which he stands protrudes to create a shadow from the overhanging portion. The name ALLEN is carved in small capital letters in the groove on the lower right edge with the date just below it in the border. DESPAIR is centered in capital letters in the border at the bottom.

Found in the home of Allen’s niece Phyllis Allen Kaercher Marta, age 91 in 2014, the relief was passed down to her from her mother, Frederick’s little sister Mildred. The family story told by Phyllis is that this bas-relief of a nude male figure was student work, presented as Allen’s portfolio to gain entrance to the schools in Paris in 1913. He never mentioned the work in his diary. Sculpted in 1909, it would have been created in his second year of classes with Bela Pratt. The artwork would have shown his knowledge of anatomy, his ability to sculpt the nude figure (a requirement for academic artists), his skill with the difficult technique of bas-relief modeling, his aptitude for art, his esthetic sensibility and his ability to express emotion in his work.

Clay original cast in plaster, tinted to look like white marble on the front.
Size: 5 1/2 x 9 1/16 inches
Signed: ALLEN in the lower right with the date ’09 just below it in the border.
Inscription: “Despair” at the base in the border

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *