ARTISTS IN LOVE, part ten

In both his art and his life, the sculptor Gaston Lachaise was famously devoted to his muse, Isabel.



Lachaise was working in Paris in 1901 when he first saw Isabel Nagle, a married woman on vacation from the United States. He later recalled that the moment he laid eyes on her, Isabel “immediately became the primary inspiration which awakened my vision….“



The sincere young artist appeared at her door every day until she agreed to let him draw her portrait. By the time she returned home to the U.S., Isabel loved Gaston too.


Lachaise could not bear to lose Isabel so he gave up his friends and family, learned to speak English and followed her to the U.S. with $30 in his pocket. There, he ultimately persuaded her to divorce her husband and marry him.



Gaston and Isabel seem to have had a grand time together. Isabel’s first husband was a conservative businessman in strict Boston society. Gaston took her away from Boston to romp nude in the remote woods of Maine. They swam and frolicked in the phosphorescent sea at night. They wrote bad love poetry to each other (as is every couple’s right). A sample from Gaston:


I sing my hymn to you,
You the goddess for whom I searched,
Whom I express in my every work,
Have made me a God,
You inspire my every moment.
Mostly, Isabel inspired Lachaise to sculpt an endless stream of monuments to muliebrity. His statues gloried in her ample belly, powerful haunches and pendulous breasts.







Years later he wrote, “through her the splendor of life was uncovered for me and the road of wonder began widening….” It must have been somewhere along that wider road that he started sculpting Isabel opened like some giant fecund orchid.



I used to think Lachaise’s art was pretty uncomplicated. Then I read that Isabel was in reality just five feet, two inches tall and weighed a mere 110 pounds. Whoa.

Oliver Sacks once wrote, "the world isn’t given to us– we make it with our nervous systems.” In art as in love, what we bring to and invest in the object of our affection plays a significant role in the reality we perceive.

Lachaise did not simply copy Isabel as nature created her. She was his focal object for distilling the abstract shapes and contours of eros. Isabel seems to have transported Lachaise to something much bigger than himself. Willa Cather defined happiness as “being dissolved into something complete and great.” As far as I can tell, Lachaise was a very happy guy.

ARTISTS IN LOVE, part ten