February 16, 2020


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Lot 120: Jan de Swart

Lot 120: Jan de Swart


Aluminum and glass elements
14.5" x 2.375" x 1.75"; (37 x 6 x 4 cm)
Provenance: The artist; Thence by descent
Estimate: $4,000 - $6,000
Inventory Id: 34156

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Jan de Swart (1908–1987) was known within artistic circles as a technical virtuoso and a creative hero. De Swart rose to prominence through his visibility in Arts & Architecture and his close relationship with the magazine’s publisher and editor, John Entenza. The Dutch-born sculptor began his practice at a young age, apprenticing to a liturgical carver. Through his training in traditional treatments of precious woods, de Swart gained a deep appreciation for the character and subtleties of his materials. In 1928, he immigrated to the United States and was one of the first artists to take up residence at Park Moderne in Calabasas, William Lingenbrink’s “pointedly modern fairy-book retreat,” that would go on to attract some of the period’s most prolific creatives. After pursuing colorful jobs such as gold prospecting and furniture making, de Swart found remarkable financial success designing commercial and industrial accessories. Despite his lack of formal technical training, de Swart had an intuitive understanding of engineering principles and could flawlessly eyeball the hefty calculations that burdened other inventors. With a knack for discovering new applications of plastic technologies, de Swart designed a wide array of products, from attachments for warcraft machinery to pharmaceutical and cosmetic packaging. By the end of World War II, de Swart had registered over one hundred technical patents, many of which are still used today. According to his wife, Ursula, he “kind of [played] with” his new materials “along the way” and discovered aesthetically fascinating new forms. Wartime demand for his inventions offered de Swart the financial security to invest more time in his art and he began using new plastics to articulate his signature abstract sculptures. In 1944, the artist was featured in his first solo exhibition, and the following year his works were shown at the Pasadena Art Museum.

Though passionate for modern materials, the artist and inventor maintained a fondness for the medium of his youth. According to de Swart himself, he found that in moving beyond the tedious hand-carving methods of his early education and by adopting the use of a bandsaw, he could quickly and easily “reveal [the] inner structure” of his wood and “indulge in a rich diversity” of its inherent design. His laminating process then lent his wood works a unique structural elegance. While de Swart’s works were conceptually dense and helped significantly advance the period’s language of design, they strayed from many other modernist trends within sculpture at the time. Instead of assuming self-importance or preciousness, de Swart’s objects were intended to be integrated directly into their architectural setting, accommodating not only their environment but its inhabitants as well.

“Biography.” Jan de Swart, The Jan de Swart Foundation, www.jandeswart.com/about-jan-deswart/jan-de-swart-bio/.
Folkart, Burt A. “Known for Works in Wood: L.A. Inventor, Sculptor Jan de Swart Dies at 79." Los Angeles Times, 25 Apr. 1987.
McGee, Mike. “First Interview with Jan de Swart.” Laguna Art Museum, Internet Archive, 1985. archive.org/details/calgbam_000027/calgbam_000027_a_access.mp3.
Meares, Hadley. “Park Moderne: LA's Lost Oz.” Curbed LA, 15 Sept. 2016, la.curbed.com/2016/9/15/12922422/calabasas-park-moderne.
"The Pure Research of Jan de Swart." Craft Horizons (Archive : 1941-1978), vol. 1, no. 18, 1958, pp. 10-18.