Amon Carter print details

Chef d'Orchestre

Elie Nadelman (1882-1946)

Object Details

  • Date

    ca. 1919

  • Object Type


  • Medium

    Stained and gessoed cherrywood

  • Dimensions

    38 1/2 x 22 x 11 in.

  • Inscriptions


  • Credit Line

    Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas, Partial gift of the Anne Burnett and Charles Tandy Foundation

  • Accession Number


  • Copyright

    Public domain

Object Description

Nadelman enjoyed considerable success as a sculptor in Europe before immigrating to the United States in 1914. Inspired by the work of 18th- and 19th-century self-taught artists and artisans—often called folk artists—he began carving figural sculptures in cherrywood. Depicting subjects from modern life, these works reveal his fascination with folk techniques, forms, and motifs, as well as his keen eye for elegant silhouettes and expressive gestures.

In this portrayal of a modern symphony conductor, Nadelman deliberately left tool marks visible all over the body and applied white gesso paint unevenly, creating a weathered effect that mimics the appearance of historical folk sculpture. Lincoln Kirstein, an art critic, friend, and patron of the artist, praised this sculpture, declaring that Nadelman “has found here the precise posture to indicate the entire science and showiness of the bravura conductor.”

—Text taken from the Carter Handbook (2023)

Additional details

Location: On view
See more by Elie Nadelman


  • This smooth cherrywood sculpture of a music conductor is 38.5 inches high, 22 inches wide, 11 inches deep and intended to be viewed from all sides. The artist first modeled the figure in plaster, then had artisans assist him in carving the work in wood. He only used a reddish-brown and white pigment and some carved details to delineate body features.

    Looking at the sculpture from the front, the male conductor stands upright with stiff legs separated about the width of his waist, arms raised on the sides of his body, about shoulder height and bent at the elbows, and head turned to the side. His position suggests he is actively leading his orchestra.

    The man’s head turns to his left, as if he were looking past his open-palmed hand. His head and face lack much detail. These areas on the figure’s head are white with areas of brownish pigment, creating a weathered look. Faint, brown pigment suggests where a hairline might start at the top of his forehead. Carved, curved lines represent his ears on either side of his head. Both eyes are almond-shaped and the same reddish brown as the majority of his body. A slender, pointed nose subtly rises off the middle of his face, and under it, a faint reddish-brown line marks his closed mouth.

    His left elbow bends, pointed down to the ground; his painted white hand is open toward his face with his fingers closely together. His right arm also extends out to the side, but his bent elbow and forearm are more parallel to the floor. Again, his painted white hand is opened with fingers close together, but his hand angles more toward the ground.

    The white of the conductor’s head continues down his neck and the center of his chest, ending right above his crotch. This wide white strip down his torso suggests a shirt or tuxedo bib, indicated by the pointed edges at the bottom of the white. The rest of his upper body is painted reddish brown. The back of the figure has a dip inward, indicating the small of his back. He appears to wear a formal tuxedo jacket, indicated by the sleeve lip at the wrists of the conductor’s hands and a carved, swooping tail on the backside under his buttocks.

    The gap between his legs widens as they taper off as they reach the base. His feet disappear where his ankles meet the base of the sculpture. The base is rectangular, which sits on a piece of highly-polished, rectangular wood that is a little bit larger and thicker than the thin bottom of the carved sculpture itself.

    As seen here, Nadelman was heavily influenced by folk art, distinguished by simple handcrafted details and the practice of carving an artwork out of wood.

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