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Jacques Lipchitz (1891-1973)

Jacques Lipchitz, the eldest son of a wealthy Jewish contractor, was born in Druskieniki, Lithuania in 1891.  His interest in modeling and drawing was evident when he was in grade school.  At the age of 18, and against the wishes of his father to become an engineer, he departed for Paris to enroll in anatomy and stone carving classes at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts - at the encouragement of his mother and uncle.  He also studied at the Academie Julian and the Academie Colarossi.

In 1914, Lipchitz traveled with Diego Rivera to Madrid and Majorca, where he was introduced to Picasso, Max Jacob, Juan Gris, Modigliani, and other artists in the Cubist circle.  However, his greatest influence came from his interest in art history, providing him with an unlimited source of imagery.

Lipchitz applied theories of mathematics and proportion to the concepts of Braque and Picasso, as did many second generation Cubists.  A relatively new movement in art was being created, where curves, planes, lines, and their intersections and overlapping would form new relationships.  His works display a lifetime of continuous growth and exploration, spanning the Cubism style to Mannerism, and subjects from non-committal to those that carry profound visual symbolism. Although he was a leader in innovation and experimentation, his work never embraced total abstraction and never tried to escape from the reality of art as symbolic expression.

In the mid-1920s, Lipchitz began making sculptures in a distinctively new style. His sculptures were frequently constructed from bronze and engaged new ways of exploring light and space. These new works, called transparents, provided a greater emphasis on utilizing negative space. Although unpopular at the time, the works and ideas behind the transparents became popular with Picasso and Juan Gris.


After 1925, Lipchitz departed from the Cubist manner and began to soften the geometric angularity of his pieces into curvilinear, openwork sculptures whose expressive subjects were drawn from ancient mythology and the Bible.  He achieved naturalism in these works that can be seen in Woman Leaning on Elbow.

In 1941, Varian Fry was instrumental in facilitating Lipchitz to flee Vichy, France, to the United States -- during the German invasion of France. Lipchitz relocated in New York where he continued to fill commissions from all over the world including The Spirit of Enterprise, Fairmount Park, Philadelphia; Notre Dame de Liesse, Assy in Haute-Savoie; and his most famous work commissioned for the 1937 Paris Exposition Universelle entitled Prometheus. (In the myth, the gods punish Prometheus for bringing fire to humans by turning him into stone and allowing a vulture to peck at his liver.  In the piece, however, Prometheus is shown unchained, strangling the vulture, used as a symbol of ignorance.)  In 1951, he presented Fry with his completed Embracing Figures.  In 1952, a fire destroyed and claimed most of Lipchitz' work.

In 1955, he began producing his celebrated semi-automatics-masses of clay or plasticine, which he would first mold underwater using only his sense of touch.

Examples of his work can be seen in the Museum of Modern Art, New York City, and the Barnes Foundation, Merion, Pennsylvania.


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