Sculpture: Mirror of the Moderns

French Sculptor Henri Laurens was a self-effacing man who ordinarily preferred to let his articulate friends do the talking. But one night in 1930, as Art Dealer D. H. Kahnweiler recalls it, the conversation drifted around to the beauty of Marlene Dietrich. One of the group suggested that Marlene did not have beautiful thighs. "Too thick," he concluded. With a vehemence that shocked his friends, the mild-mannered Laurens leaped to Marlene's defense.

"Oh, quelles belles grosses cuisses!" he exclaimed. ("What beautiful big thighs!") Laurens, of course, was not merely defending Marlene:...

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