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Arts of North America

Art created in North America includes objects made by native cultures of the present-day United States and Canada; paintings and decorative arts produced during colonial times; 18th- and 19th-century masterpieces; and the work of contemporary artists and photographers.

© Estate of David Smith / Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY,
American, 1906 - 1965
Painted steel

28 5/8 x 15 1/2 x 13 1/2 inches

The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Gift of Mr. and Mrs. W. D. Hawkins

Arts of North America

The title Leda refers to the Greco-Roman myth about a god who takes the form of a swan and then seduces a woman. Here, David Smith offers a witty interpretation of the unlikely act of lovemaking between a bird and a woman.

Though Smith was not the first sculptor to use steel, no other artist has devoted his career to the medium with such brilliance and mastery. He learned the technique of welding steel from working in a car factory, and he applied this skill to the art of sculpture, forging his first steel work in 1933. Steel offered unique qualities for Smith, as he explained:  "What it can do in arriving at form economically, no other material can do. The metal itself possesses little art history. What associations it possesses are of this century: power, structure, movement, progress, suspension, destruction, brutality."

Leda is one of Smith’s more poetic early steel constructions. The image of the swan is suggested by the graceful arcing neck and wing of the piece, while the theme of rape is conveyed by the diagonal thrust of one element piercing another. Myths and historical associations remained of central importance to Smith throughout his career, and many of his later works incorporate a balance between subject matter and radical abstraction.