Jacques Lipchitz (1891-1973), an internationally known and influential Cubist sculptor, studied in Paris and established his career there. He fled Paris just before the German occupation, arrived in New York City in 1941, and eventually settled in Hastings-on-Hudson, NY.
Chaim Jacob Lipchitz was born in Druskieniki, Lithuania, then part of the Russian empire. His father, a building contractor from a well-to-do Jewish banking family, expected his son to study engineering as preparation for joining the business. Lipchitz, however, aspired to become a sculptor. With financial help from his mother, and determined to pursue his dream, he left for Paris after graduating from high school in 1909. Once there, Chaim Jacob soon became Jacques, the name he used throughout his life.
He first enrolled at the École des Beaux-Arts as a "free pupil." After his father agreed to provide an allowance, Lipchitz transferred to the Académie Julian to study with sculptor Raoul Verlet. He also attended evening drawing classes at the Académie Colarossi. By 1911 he was working in his own studio. Two years later, Lipchitz's entry in the Salon d'Automne received favorable recognition.
In Paris, his circle of friends and acquaintances grew to include Dr. Albert C. Barnes, Constantin Brancusi, Coco Chanel, Jean Cocteau, André Derain, Ernest Hemingway, Max Jacob, Charles-Édouard Jenneret (Le Corbusier), James Joyce, Fernand Léger, André Lhote, Jean Metzinger, Amédée Ozenfant, Pablo Picasso, Diego Rivera, Chaim Soutine, Gertrude Stein, and Virgil Tompson. Juan Gris and Amedeo Modigliani were his closest friends.
Lipchitz's earliest work was traditional. Exposure to Picasso and other avant-garde artists influenced his style, and by 1915 he was producing purely Cubist sculptures. In 1916, dealer Léonce Rosenberg offered Lipchitz a contract with a monthly stipend. Able to afford assistants, Lipchitz began much larger projects. Over time, as he came to feel that angular forms were devoid of humanity, his style gradually changed. In the 1920s, he began experimenting with "transparencies" - delicate abstract forms with large open spaces for which he developed casting techniques that influenced sculpture for a generation. In the 1950s, he began creating "semi-automatics." These were cast in bronze from forms made by submerging hot wax in water, which sometimes incorporated found objects. Much of Lipchitz's later work was massive, dynamic, and incorporated more naturalistic forms.
In the early 1920s, Lipchitz received multiple commissions from Coco Chanel and Dr. Albert C. Barnes. He became a French citizen in 1924, the year he married poet Berthe Kitrosser, with whom he had lived since 1915. (Their double portrait by Modigliani that Lipchitz commissioned in 1916, now titled The Sculptor Jacques Lipchitz and His Wife Berthe Lipchitz, is in the permanent collection of the Art Institute of Chicago). The following year they moved to a suburban home and studio designed by Le Corbusier.
Léonce Rosenberg's Galerie de l'Effort Moderne presented Lipchitz's first solo exhibition in 1930, and the first important Lipchitz exhibition in the United States was held in 1935 at Brummer Gallery, New York. As the sculptor's reputation grew throughout the 1930s, his work was very much in demand.
As World War II approached, Lipchitz sensed the impending horror of the Nazi regime but was extremely reluctant to leave Paris. With time running out, he finally was persuaded that it was too dangerous to stay. Jacques and Berthe Lipchitz departed for the free zone of Toulouse, and with help from American friends sought asylum in the United States. In June of 1941, they arrived in New York City with some clothing, a portfolio of drawings, and very little money.
Lipchitz, a mature artist with an international reputation, soon attracted invitations to teach. Although finances were tight, the offers were rejected because he understood that any commitment would impede his artistic output. In search of a gallery, he contacted Brummer Gallery, the site of his first American show six years earlier. Although Joseph Brummer had shifted his focus to antiques, he provided an introduction to art dealer Curt Valentin of Buchholz Gallery (later Curt Valentin Gallery), who was sincerely interested in modern sculpture. Valentin went on to represent Lipchitz for well over a decade. Curt Valentin Gallery closed in 1955, a year after the owner's death. Lipchitz then became affiliated with Fine Arts Associates and its many successors (Otto Gerson Gallery, Inc., and Marlborough-Gerson Gallery, Inc.), which represented him for the remainder of his life. Marlborough Gallery, Inc. handled Lipchitz's estate.
Berthe longed to go home after the war, and in 1946 the couple returned to France. But because he and France had changed, Lipchitz soon realized that his future lay in America. He returned to New York after seven months; Berthe remained, and a divorce soon followed.
Within the year, Jacques Lipchitz married Yulla Halberstadt, a fellow refugee who was also a sculptor. Their only child, Loyla Rachel, was born in 1948. The family moved to Hastings-on-Hudson, NY in 1949, and he continued to work at his studio on East 23rd Street in New York City. After a major studio fire in early 1952 destroyed commissions in progress and many other pieces, the sculptor set up a temporary work space at Modern Art Foundry, Long Island City, NY. Several museums, collectors, and friends, quickly raised funds for a new studio, which became a loan at Lipchitz's insistence. A new studio designed by Milton Lowenfish and located within walking distance of Lipchitz's Hastings-on-Hudson home opened in 1953.
During the course of his career, Lipchitz was honored with a large number of solo and retrospective exhibitions at major museums and galleries in Europe, North and South America, and Israel. His work is represented in the permanent collections of world renowned museums and is owned by a wide range of private collectors and institutions.
Lipchitz was an avid art collector. An exhibition of Scythian art at the Hermitage Museum, seen while on a brief trip home in 1912, greatly impressed and inspired him. The result was an intense interest in non-European art, especially African art. He began to collect appealing objects from other cultures, and soon developed a life-long habit of visiting flea markets, antique shops, and galleries on a regular basis in search of items for his growing collection. In addition to ethnographic and ancient art, Lipchitz also bought old masters and 19th century art, and developed a special interest in Géricault. The original collection was abandoned when he left Paris; once settled in the United States, he resumed collecting. A substantial portion of the Lipchitz Collection, with an accompanying scholarly catalogue, was exhibited in 1960 at The Museum of Primitive Art, New York City.
Lipchitz's family was observant and he attended Jewish schools that stressed religious education, but he showed little interest in his faith during his early adult life. However, the establishment of Israel affected him profoundly and, over time, religious themes emerged in Lipchitz's work. He began making arrangements for gifts of sculpture to the Bezalel National Museum and the Israel Museum, developed a friendship with Jerusalem's outspoken Zionist mayor, Theodore Kollek, and in 1963 made his first of many visits to Israel.
He was a Chevalier de la Légion d'Honneur, was elected a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and received awards for artistic achievement from the American Institute of Architects, Boston University, and Brandeis University. The Jewish Theological Seminary, New York, presented him an Honorary Doctorate of Laws degree.
Jacques Lipchitz died in Capri, Italy, May 16, 1973, and is buried in Israel. At his death, several large-scale sculpture commissions were left unfinished, and his wife Yulla took over the projects and saw that the installations were accomplished as planned. These posthumous installations include Government for the People, installed in Philadelphia in 1976, Bellerophon Taming Pegasus, installed at the Columbia University School of Law in New York City in 1977, and Our Tree of Life, installed in Jersusalem in 1978.
Bruce Bassett (1925-2009), a television and film producer, worked for NBC in New York for over 20 years. Bassett met the sculptor Jacques Lipchitz (1891-1973) when they were both living in Hastings-on-Hudson, NY. In 1968, Bassett initiated an extensive oral history project when he realized that Lipchitz, as an English speaker and participant in the birth of modernism in Europe, was the only living artist who could provide an oral record of the beginnings of modern art for an English audience.
From 1968, until his death in 2009, Bassett carried out extensive documentation projects regarding Lipchitz, often in his spare time, under the auspices of two organizations he founded: the Jacques Lipchitz Art Foundation (1968-1975) and Histor Systems (circa 1991-2001). In 1968 Bassett raised funds to enable Deborah Stott to travel to Italy and conduct roughly 200 hours of audio interview with Lipchitz, interviews which cover not only his own history, but also include a complete record of the origins of his extensive collection of primitive art, numbering almost 3000 objects at the time. Bassett himself traveled to Italy and filmed nearly 40 hours of additional interviews with Lipchitz in 1971.
Drawing from these filmed interviews, Bassett created a pioneering interactive program which allowed museum-goers to pose questions to Lipchitz and moments later receive answers in the form of video segments of Lipchitz speaking. He used the same footage to write, produce, and direct a one hour documentary, "Portrait of an Artist: Jacques Lipchitz." Both projects were originally presented to the public in tandem with a retrospective exhibition of Lipchitz's sculpture at the Metropolitan Museum in New York in 1972, and were later revised and updated several times for subsequent distribution and presentation. The last presentation of the interactive project documented in Bassett's papers was held at the Krannert Art Museum of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2001. The interactive project is now online at the Israel Museum website entitled "Ask Jacques Lipchitz a Question," a project Bassett had been working on with Hanno Mott at his death. Bassett had visited the Museum several years earlier to demonstrate the video.
Bassett died in 2009 in New York, NY.