David Hare

The Swan’s Dream of Leda

Bronze with stone base
53-3/4 × 33-1/2 × 9-3/4 inches
Lent by The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Gift of the artist, 1963
Photography not permitted
Location: Bass Concert Hall Lobby, Fourth Floor
GPS: 30.285849,-97.731528

David Hare, born and reared in New York City, did not originally intend to become an artist. After earning undergraduate degrees in chemistry and biology, he turned to experimental photography.

During World War II, Hare adopted ideas from the European surrealists, including their enthusiasm for the concepts of Freudian psychoanalysis. In 1942, after meeting the self-proclaimed leader of the surrealist movement, André Breton, Hare became convinced of the importance of free association in the creation of art. After the war, Hare maintained contact with the surrealists in Paris; he married Breton’s former wife, Jacqueline Lamba.

Hare began to sculpt in 1944, seeking to create works that recombine elements from reality into different “relations of memory and association.” As the surrealist movement faded in the 1950s, he adapted his style to a more abstract mode in keeping with the emergence of formalist aesthetics, but he retained the surrealists’ principle of suggesting a subject and hoping that viewers would bring their own freely associated insights.

The Swan’s Dream of Leda, 1962

The title refers to the classical Greek myth in which the patriarchal, dominant king of the gods, Zeus, desired a beautiful human woman, Leda, and in order to take her unaware, he appeared to her in the guise of a swan. Little more than a paean to male lust, the tale was often an excuse to portray a sensuous female nude in Renaissance and post-Renaissance art. To an artist steeped in surrealism and Freudian analysis, the subject offered rich possibilities for sexual innuendo. Yet Hare chose not to depict the obvious phallic and other genital motifs so beloved by most male surrealists. Instead the forms in this sculpture suggest indirect associations, such as the flapping of the swan’s wings.

Bibliographic Highlights

Goldwater, Robert. “David Hare.” Art in America 44 (Winter 1956/57): 18–20, 61.

Goodnough, Robert. “David Hare Makes a Sculpture.” Art News 55 (March 1956): 46–59.

Goossen, Eugene C., Robert Goldwater, and Irving H. Sandler. Three American Sculptors: Ferber, Hare, Lassaw. New York: Grove Press, 1959.

Hadler, Mona. “David Hare: A Magician’s Game in Context.” Art Journal 47 (Fall 1988): 196–201.

Pachner, Joan. “The Odd Couple: Two Installations by David Hare and Frederick Kiesler.” Arts Magazine 57 (December 1982): 84–86.

Rosenberg, Harold. “The Art World: American Surrealist.” New Yorker, 24 October 1977, 155–58.