William Zorach (American, born Lithuania 1889-Maine 1966),
The Three Graces, 1960
Location: Roberson Museum, 30 Front Street
The three female figures in William Zorach’s sculpture represent the Three Graces of Greek mythology — goddesses who traditionally symbolize charm, beauty, and fertility. Known in Greek as Charites (singular Charis), they were usually present at banquets and ceremonies to provide entertainment for guests. They were daughters of the god Zeus and the mermaid Eurynome, the latter a popular deity throughout the ancient Greek world. The Graces have long been a popular subject in Western art, appearing in works by artists such as Raphael, Peter Paul Rubens, and Sandro Botticelli (perhaps most famously in the latter’s 1482 painting Primavera). However, Zorach’s treatment of the theme differs from traditional interpretations. The Graces are often depicted in a way that emphasizes classical ideals, such as their sweetness and femininity, and are commonly portrayed as delicate and otherworldly; in contrast, Zorach’s figures are solid and powerful, emerging together from a single mass of bronze. Standing back to back with each facing out in a different direction and united by the holding of their hands, Zorach’s figures exude strength and confidence.
“To me there is a revival of true sculptural values in the work being done today. Only time can give this art its ultimate value, but at least it is of our time and life and is of intense interest to any sculptor working today,” stated William Zorach in one of his books on sculpture. Zorach was a major modernist artist whose work appears in many major museums and collections including the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, DC, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Radio City Music Hall in New York. Although he was trained as a painter and printmaker, sculpture was his primary medium. Zorach rejected extreme realism in sculpture as merely decorative and lacking “human spirit.” In contrast to the casting prevalent in his day, he preferred to carve his sculptures directly, mimicking the style of ancient Greek and Egyptian stone statues. Although Zorach was well known for his direct carving, The Three Graces happens to be one of his few cast-bronze works. Although the work was completed using the difficult lost-wax process (in which a mold is made of wax, heated, and melted to form a hollow bronze form), The Three Graces has all the forcefulness of Zorach’s better known carved pieces.
The Three Graces was a gift from the Civic Club of Binghamton to the Roberson Museum in honor of the Club’s 75th anniversary in 1973. The Civic Club believed that The Three Graces embodied the theme of their anniversary, taken from a quote by Frank Lloyd Wright: “If you wisely invest in beauty, it will remain with you all the days of your life.” Tessim Zorach, the artist’s son, played an integral role in the securing of the work for the Museum, noting that his father would have wanted his work in a public space where many could enjoy it.
Researched by: Zsuzsanna Orban