Henri Laurens, who associated closely with the avant-garde painters of his native Paris, worked in a Cubist idiom from 1915. In about 1920 he turned from the production of bas-reliefs and frontalized constructions to the execution of more classically ordered, freestanding sculptures. Head of a Young Girl may have appeared originally as a drawing. However, in this bust Laurens expresses Cubist painting principles in essentially sculptural terms. The tilted surfaces and geometric volumes of the sculpture interpenetrate to constitute a compact whole. Circling the piece, the viewer perceives dramatically different aspects of the head, which provide a variety of visual experiences unexpected in a form so schematically reduced.
The structuring planes of one side of the head are broad and unadorned; its edges and planar junctures form strong, uninterrupted curves and straight lines. The other side is articulated with detail; its jagged, hewn contour describing hair contrasts rhythmically with the sweeping curve of the opposite cheek. Laurens slices into the polyhedron that determines the facial planes to describe nose, upper lip, and chin at one stroke. The subtle modeling, particularly of the almond eye and simplified mouth, produces nuanced relations of light and shadow. Despite the geometric clarity of structure, the delicacy of the young girl’s features and her self-contained pose create a gentle, meditative quality.