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Reuben Nakian
b. 1897, College Point, New York City, NY
d. 1986, Stamford, CT

Reuben Nakian (née Henry Malakian Nakhian) was an American sculptor of Armenian descent, whose work was informed by ancient Greek mythology. He was the son of Armenian immigrants from Turkey, but was orphaned as a young man; his mother died when he was only fourteen years old, and his father and brother both died when he was nineteen. Two years after his mother’s death, Nakian moved to New York and started working as an errand boy, first at an ad agency, and later for Will Bradley, the editor and poster artist of Century magazine. Bradley, an art enthusiast, introduced young Nakian to the German avant-garde and works by Watteau and Fragonard. Inspired by this informal arts education, Nakian enrolled in drawing classes at the Independent Art School, and sculpting classes at the Beaux Arts Academy. Recognizing Nakian’s talent, the sculptor Paul Manship hired Nakian as his apprentice in 1916. While working at the studio, Nakian became close friends with Manship’s assistant, Gaston Lachaise.

In 1920, when Manship moved to Europe, Lachaise and Nakian purchased their own studio on 6th Avenue. In 1922, the studio received a visit from Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, Juliana Force, and the critic Forbes Watson. The Whitneys offered Nakian a stipend, along with enough money to purchase his own studio. Around this time, he was close friends with the painter Arshile Gorky, the sculptor Raoul Hague, and the dealer Dikran Kelekian. Together, these four children of the Armenian diaspora would visit museums and discuss art, particularly the challenges of being recognized as American artists while still acknowledging their Armenian roots.

It was at this time that Nakian chose to re-interpret Greco-Roman mythology through his art. As he explained, “I should be living in Europe—but if I were living in Europe, I couldn’t create, because all the masterpieces would wear you down … America is the land of the free and you do what you want, so America is the ideal place for me to do the classical subject matter. I couldn’t do that in Greece.” With a shift in subject matter, Nakian also experienced an increase in his renown. In 1961, he was chosen to represent the United States in the Sao Paulo Bienal VI, and in 1962, his show traveled to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). After the exhibition, LACMA acquired some of his works, as did the Walker Art Center, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the National Portrait Gallery. A few years before his death, the Smithsonian produced a documentary on his life. Rosenberg & Co. represents the estate of the artist.