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Albert Wein (1915-1991)

Embracing Couple

Plaster Maquette, c. 1940's

Mahogany Version, c. mid/late 1950's

Plaster Maquette:

 

Bronze patinated plaster mounted on walnut base, 19 1/4 x 6 x 5 1/2 inches plus base (1 3/4 x 5 3/8 x 5 3/8 inches). Unsigned.

Provenance:

Acquired October 23, 2004 from John Dillon Fillmore (dealer), Santa Fe, NM. Acquired by Fillmore at a Hollywood, CA consignment shop.

Mahogany Version:

 

Carved mahogany, 39 x 10 ½ x 11 inches.  Unsigned.

Exhibitions:

Enduring America: Selections from the Collection of Art and Peggy Hittner, Northern Arizona University Art Museum, April 7 - May 29, 2015.

Reproduced:

Enduring America (catalogue).

References:

Dearinger, David, Albert Wein: An American Modernist (Abby M. Taylor Fine Art LLC, Greenwich, CT, 2008); Howlett, D. Roger, "Albert Wein: A Classic Modernist" (essay in sixteen-page brochure on the sculptor’s works, probably printed in 1989 for Childs Gallery of Boston).

Provenance:

Shirley Rich, California until about 2004 or 2005; Levis Benton Fine Art, Boston, MA; Blake Benton Fine Art, Cragsmoor, NY; acquired through Trinity International Auctions, Avon, CT (April 12, 2008, lot 288) as “WPA Figure, Embracing Couple.” 

      Although born in the Bronx, Albert Wein spent most of his childhood in Baltimore, where he began his formal art training at the Maryland Institute of Fine and Applied Arts at age twelve. With the onset of the Depression, his family was forced to return to the Bronx. At fourteen, Wein enrolled at the National Academy of Design school in New York City. By 1932, he was taking night classes in sculpture at the Beaux-Arts Institute of Design before moving on to study painting with the noted modernist Hans Hofmann. In 1934, Wein quit his job as a $30 per week layout artist to sculpt full-time under the aegis of the WPA. Wein parlayed his classical training and modernist sensibilities into numerous awards and government sculpture commissions. By 1942, he had been elected to the National Sculpture Society. Five years later, Wein won the Prix de Rome in Sculpture, enabling him to study for two years at the American Academy in Rome. Wein won a Tiffany Foundation Fellowship upon his return to the United States in 1949, then participated in major sculpture exhibitions at the Whitney and Metropolitan Museums during the succeeding two years before moving to California to sculpt, paint and teach. Wein's early work embraced the prevalent WPA aesthetic which favored massive, muscular forms. By the late Forties, however, his work often became softer and more classical in feel, although he never entirely abandoned his earlier approach, successfully employing either style (as well as more abstract themes) as it suited him on varying projects over the remainder of his career. 

      Embracing Couple is one of a number of works by Wein addressing the theme of romantic love. The plaster sculpture in this collection, acquired as an unattributed work several years before the mahogany version, appears to have been Wein's maquette, or preliminary study, for the mahogany carving (although it has been suggested that it may have been originally intended as a study for a bronze which was never executed). The latter version is precisely twice the size of the maquette and virtually identical in all other respects. Although neither sculpture is dated, Deyna Wein, the sculptor's widow, indicated that the maquette was produced prior to her 1957 marriage to Wein and has suggested an early 1940's origin based on style (although the piece may date to as late as the mid-1950's).* Shortly after their marriage, Wein executed a number of wood sculptures including Embracing Couple. These dates would seem to correlate with Wein's relocation to California in 1955 which is consistent with the early California provenance of both versions. The style is consistent with the period, with modernist features including sharp planes and elongated necks and hands.

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* Emails from Deyna Wein, August 12, 2008.

Also in the Collection:

Albert Wein, Fastball, sculpted, 1979, cast, 1987. Bronze sculpture on black imperial marble base, 16 x 17 1/4 x 6 inches (sculpture); 3 x 18 x 6 inches (base). Number 3 in edition of 12. 

     Wein was passionate about sports. The sculpture Fast Ball was inspired by a photograph of Nolan Ryan which appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated on July 23, 1979. The sculptor adapted the pose of the legendary fastballer into a more stylized, timeless form. Wein entered the original sculpture into that year’s annual exhibition of the National Sculpture Society where it was awarded the coveted Proskauer Prize. Wein’s only other baseball piece, Safe, which portrays a baserunner’s dramatic slide, was executed nine years later.

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Recollections

     Albert Wein has a curious yet consistent magnetic appeal to us.  We acquired our first Wein sculpture, the bronze Fastball, in 1996. At that time, we were collecting (among other things) fine art relating to baseball.  The sculpture was in the collection of a good friend, a very important collector of baseball fine and folk art.  Never completely enamored of the piece, he was kind enough to offer it to us.  We jumped at the opportunity to acquire this very important prize-winning bronze, one of two baseball-themed works created during the sculptor’s career. 

 

   Several years later, we came upon an interesting sculpture at the booth of a Phoenix art dealer at the 2004 USArtists Fine Art Show in Philadelphia.  Made of a bronze-patinated plaster, it appeared to depict either a lovers’ embrace or (more in tune with our Thirties sensibilities) a marathon dance couple.  Either way, the decidedly modernist work appealed to us both, despite its lack of signature or attribution.  The price reflected this uncertainty, and although we rarely consider artworks of unknown origin, we were sufficiently drawn to this piece to justify an exception.

 

     Fast forward three-and-a-half years.  Browsing through an online catalogue for an upcoming auction at Trinity International Auctions in Avon, Connecticut, I was astonished to discover an unmistakably familiar form: that of two lovers in embrace (or, if you prefer, marathon dancers).  It was identical to (and precisely twice the dimensions of) our plaster sculpture, but hewn from mahogany.  The sculptor?  Albert Wein!  This meant, of course, that our smaller work was almost certainly his maquette, or study, for the full-sized carving. The coincidences were eerily disarming.    

 

    Of course, we had to place on bid on the larger Wein, catalogued by the auction house as Embracing Couple.  We were fortunate enough to prevail.  Suddenly, we’d become a three-Wein household.

 

      We’ve enjoyed our stewardship of all three sculptures. We were particularly gratified to be able to lend Fastball to the Albert Wein retrospective exhibition at The Boston Atheneum in fall of 2008.