David Smith was an abstract expressionist best remembered for his large steel sculptures. Perfidious Albion (1945) and The Maiden's Dream (1949) typify his move toward monumental sculpture in the years following World War II. Having left his wartime job as a welder at the American Locomotive Company in Schenectady, New York, Smith moved north to Bolton Landing, to focus on producing innovative and highly imaginative sculptures. Dominant themes include violence, loss, and destruction, reflecting both his own turmoil and the realities of a postwar world.
The Maiden’s Dream combines a rudimentary portrait and a three-dimensional drawing in one. The base was begun as a bas-relief in 1941 and the upper part was added in 1949. The maiden’s face lies below the skeletal forms hovering overhead, an abstraction of a dream unfolding. The dream, mysterious and foreign, leaves the viewer to guess at its meaning. Both ghostly and portentous, the sculpture hints at unknown forces troubling an otherwise peaceful state.
David Smith was an Abstract Expressionist best remembered for his large steel sculptures. After moving to New York in 1927, he studied painting at the Art Students League. Smith often supported himself by welding and riveting, skills that later figured in his work. In 1929 he learned about Picasso's Project for Sculpture (1928) and met the painter John Graham (1886–1961), who introduced him to several avant-garde painters and to the work of metal sculptor Julio González (1886–1942). Smith made his first welded metal sculptures in 1933 and committed himself to sculpture from 1935 onward. His “Medals of Dishonor” series (1937–40) was inspired by his travels in Europe and Russia. In 1938 he had his first solo show and his sculpture Head (1938) was purchased by the Museum of Modern Art, New York. After he received a Guggenheim fellowship in 1950, his works expanded in scale and became more abstract; he later added color to some works. In 1962 the Italian government invited him to create 27 sculptures for the Festival dei Due Mondi (Festival of Two Worlds) in Spoleto. A retrospective at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum traveled to the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, and Tate Modern, London (2006–07).