Helene Sardeau

Helene Sardeau was born in 1899 in Belgium and lived and worked in New York. Her work embodies the social realism that transformed figurative art in the early decades of the 20th century.

Sardeau’s set of three bas reliefs in the Greenfield, Massachusetts Post Office lobby was installed in 1941.* The  almost-life-size bronzes are in high relief, in the semi-abstract figurative style that is the hallmark of Art Deco sculpture. The group consists of two individual figures flanking a mother and child pair. All figures are silhouetted and hung directly on the wall–this a modernist rejection of conventional architectural framing in a cartouche or escutcheon. The figure on the left is an African-American man with a trowel in his right hand, sowing grain. The central panel shows a mother and child playing. In the relief on the right (pictured) a woman harvests grapes and vegetables in basket held in her lap.

Sardeau carved her first major commission, Slave (1933), for the Ellen Phillips Samuel Memorial Sculpture Garden in Fairmount Park, Philadelphia. In 1925, “Miss Helene Sardeau, Belgian sculptress” modeled an “American Venus” trophy  in her New York studio. The completed trophy, two feet high and cast in bronze, was, according to  a contemporary newspaper account, “[to] be presented at Atlantic City, September 19th, to the contestant among the seventy-one inter-city beauties and Miss Americas who photograph to the best advantage. This lucky girl will also have the title role in The American Venus, a Paramount Picture to be produced on the Boardwalk by Frank Tuttle.”

Sardeau continued to use her maiden name after she married a fellow artist, the painter George Biddle, in 1931. In 1940 she and Biddle collaborated on frescoes and sculptures for the Supreme Court Building in Mexico City. Sardeau died in 1969 in Croton-on-Hudson, New York.

*Most of the Post Office works of art in Massachusetts were funded through commissions under the Treasury Department’s Section of Painting and Sculpture (later known as The Section of Fine Arts) and not (as commonly thought) by the WPA. The Federal Arts Program was proposed in 1933 by George Biddle to ex-Choate classmate, Franklin Roosevelt.



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