José de Creeft (1884-1982)
Collection of Modern Religious Art, Inv. 23153

General Description

Spaniard (Guadalajara) by birth, José de Creeft moved in 1905 to Paris, and in 1929 emigrated to the United States. His strongest affiliation is with New York. He is the author of the well-known 1918 war memorial, “Le Poilu” in Saugues (France), and in 1951 he sculpted the “Poet” for the Fairmont Park Association in Philadelphia. In styles ranging from Art Moderne to Expressionism, de Creeft created a cornucopia of artworks of great opulence. Interested in the sculptural art of Africa and pre-Columbian America, he wished to preserve the natural qualities of the material used, mainly wood and stone. We find here the origin of de Creeft’s obsession with direct carving. He was no stranger to casting, and experimented for a short time with assemblage techniques. But his first and permanent love was direct carving which he helped to popularize from 1930 on.

Our sculpture, called Sleep, is the result of direct carving. It explores the contrasts between finished and roughly worked areas. Hands and faces of mother and child present smooth and even shiny surfaces, while the cape of the Madonna retains the unfinished roughness of a protective shell. Dated 1972, this marble sculpture is compact and of great density, but does not attempt to project harmony of form or perfection of proportions. The influence of pre-Columbian art is noticeable; however, the forms are more rounded and the faces less angular and almost without profile. The theme is of universal and basic importance: sleep. The Madonna, with a gesture of enveloping tenderness, makes a cradle of her body and puts the baby to sleep. The sleep of the Baby Jesus is a popular theme. It is known in music (Silent Night), and art (Epinal Images), and highlights the humanity of Christ. He is one of us, entrusted to us, entrusting himself to our attention and care. Where God himself finds sleep there must be peace. De Creeft’s sculpture has a therapeutic effect. It is an invitation to peaceful intimacy with Jesus.

For more information:

Consult the exhibit catalog:  The Mother of God: Art Celebrates Mary, pp. 132-133.

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