Alice Winant was born in 1928 in Romania, where she worked as a photographer until she was incarcerated at Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen in 1944. After she was liberated in 1945, she studied sculpture with Carl Helbig in Stockholm. She then decided to move to Canada in 1953, but it wasn’t until 1968, when she was 40, that she began her sculpture practice.
Her work is now included in a number of private collections in Canada, the United States, Europe, and Japan.
The First Jewel is a sculpture installed in the rose garden at the Botanical Garden of Montréal. This full-round bronze covered with a dark patina portrays a bare-chested young woman wearing a scarf on her head and a draped piece of fabric serving as a dress. Her bent arms held in front of her originally held a pearl necklace between the two hands. Whereas the figure’s skin is quite textured, the fabrics are smooth and realistically rendered.
In this work, the dream world and reality come together in a figure who doesn’t show obvious emotion but is lost in her dreams. Winant’s sculpture thus expresses the moments of reflection that punctuate and brighten up everyday reality.
The work is exemplary of Winant’s early creative period, in which her bronzes often portrayed figures linked to family, many of them female and dressed in draped fabric. Like the figure in The First Jewel, these figures do not have very expressive faces but exude a sense of peace and tranquillity.