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Luce Foundation Center for American Art

Sculpture: 20th century: Night Leaf
Louise Nevelson

Louise Nevelson

(born Kiev, Russia 1899 -- died New York City 1988)

Louise Nevelson speaks about how she became a sculptor

“I always wanted to show the world that art is everywhere, except it has to pass through a creative mind . . . My world is the world of reality, my world is my creation, that is the world of reality.” Louise Nevelson, Exhibition Catalogue, Whitney Museum of American Art, 1967

Louise Nevelson remembered painting, drawing, and carving soap sculptures when she was only five years old. Born in Russia, she moved with her family to Rockport, Maine, in 1905. She felt like an outsider while growing up and apart from her art classes, she did not enjoy being in school. She married Charles Nevelson in 1920 and moved with him to New York. The marriage did not last, however, and Louise left her husband and son to go to Germany, where she worked with abstract expressionist painter Hans Hofmann. She returned to New York after only a few months, feeling a strong connection to the country of her youth and seeing far greater possibilities for the development of her work: “I could be a leaf on the tree in Paris, but I could be the whole tree in America.” Nevelson struggled to gain recognition for many years but eventually achieved success during the 1950s, creating dreamlike constructions that evoked dramatic cityscapes. She built boxes and walls from dismantled furniture, ornaments, and scraps of wood that she found on the street, and often painted them in single colors to emphasize the effects of light and shadow.

Image Credits: Courtesy National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.