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Born into a bourgeois family in Kiev in May 1887, Alexander Archipenko was tutored at home until he was 9. After being badly injured in a bicycle accident in 1900, he spent the better part of his fourteenth year in bed copying the drawings of Michaelangelo from books given to him by his grandfather. Having grasped the relationship between mathematics and art, Archipenko decided on a career in art, that was also inspired by Leonardo da Vinci’s comprehension of both science and art.
In 1902, he began courses at the Kiev Art School, staying until he was expelled in 1905 for criticizing his teachers for being old-fashioned and too academic. After a sojourn in Moscow, Archipenko moved to Paris in 1908 where he started courses at the École des Beaux-Arts but left in short order, finding the academic system too stultifying. He continued to study independently in museums, making the Louvre, particularly its collections of ancient and archaic art, his university. He established a studio in Montparnasse where Modigliani and others studied with him.
By the age of 23, he had produced a series of revolutionary sculptures and began showing at the Salon des Indépendants and the Salon d’Automne in Paris. He had his first one-man show in Germany at the Museum Folkwang Hagen in 1912. That same year, he opened an art school and joined the Section d’Or group, a veritable who’s who of the Parisian art scene.
He truly burst on the art scene with shows in England, France, Germany (Der Sturm) and in Prague. Four sculptures and five drawings by Archipenko were included in the seminal 1913 Armory Show in New York. His art was so avant-garde that it was regularly ridiculed in the international press of the time.
The war years were spent working on his sculpture in a villa in the south of France, loaned to him by a wealthy friend. For a couple of years after the war, he toured extensively exhibiting his work across Europe. When he married German sculptress, Angelica Bruno-Schmitz in 1921, he moved to Berlin to open an art school.
In 1923, Archipenko moved to New York to open another art school with a summer school in Woodstock and he became an American citizen in 1928. He lectured on creativeness over the years and across the States, and moved to Chicago in 1937. In 1939, virtually all of his art in German collections was confiscated in the Nazi purge of decadent art.
During WWII, he returned to New York to teach and lecture. After the war, his reputation continued to grow and major retrospectives of his work were held from Sao Paolo to Tokyo to Rome. Shortly after the publication of the book Archipenko: Fifty Creative Years 1908-1958 in 1960, and on his first visit to Paris since 1921, he married Frances Gray, a former student.
Alexander Archipenko died in New York in February 1964 soon after casting his last sculpture, King Solomon.