© Christie’s

Homme à la Guitare
Jacques Lipchitz (1891-1973)


In 1919-1920, at the height of his mastery of the Cubist idiom, Lipchitz undertook an important series of sculptures that depict street musicians, Pierrots and Harlequins with their instruments: guitars, mandolins, accordions, and clarinets. Although this choice of subject matter developed in part from Lipchitz's interest in Jean-Antoine Watteau and other 18th-century French painters, it also reflects the popularity that the world of the commedia dell'arte enjoyed at this time among the Parisian avant-garde. Both during and after the First World War, artists such as Jean Metzinger, André Derain, Gino Severini, and Lipchitz's close friend Juan Gris exploited the theme for its patriotic associations with Latin (versus Germanic) culture. In the hands of Pablo Picasso, characters from the commedia could embody either the alienated melancholy of the 1915 Arlequin or the artistic camaraderie of the 1921 Trois musiciens, both seminal works of Synthetic Cubism (Zervos, vol. 2, no. 555, and vol. 4, no. 331; both The Museum of Modern Art, New York). Catherine Pütz has written, "Like many in his circle...Lipchitz fêted the liberating effects of imaginative play by embracing the world of Italian street theater, the commedia dell'arte, producing a host of its traditionally masked characters—Pierrots, Harlequins, and a panoply of musicians—like those that wandered through the scenes of his friend Max Jacob's poetry (his 1921 Le bal masqué, for example) or Erik Satie's musical score and Picasso's stage-setting for the ballet Parade (1917)" (Jacques Lipchitz: The First Cubist Sculptor, London, 2002, p. 23).

The sequence of musicians also provided Lipchitz with a valuable opportunity to test new formal ideas. He would later recall in his memoirs, "This was a transitional period in which I was playing variations on a number of familiar themes, more or less conscious that I needed to find a new direction, a new stimulus... The musical instruments that I used...were part of my basic vocabulary. Like the cubist painters, I collected musical instruments and decorated my studio with them. We used these objects, which were familiar parts of our everyday lives, as a kind of reaction against the noble and exalted subjects of the academicians. They were, in effect, truly neutral subjects that we could control and in terms of which we could study abstract relations" (My Life in Sculpture, New York, 1972, pp. 54-58).

Although Lipchitz had been recognized as a leading proponent of Cubism since 1916, he enjoyed a conspicuous boost in his reputation when he signed a contract with Léonce Rosenberg. In early 1920, his inaugural one-man show, at Rosenberg's Galerie de l'Effort Moderne, attracted the attention of the influential writer Maurice Raynal, who published the first monograph on Lipchitz's work shortly thereafter. Lipchitz had also begun to frequent the homes of the leading beau-monde figures of the day, including Gertrude Stein, Jean Cocteau and Coco Chanel, all of whom commissioned portrait busts from him around this time. Later in 1920, Lipchitz had a falling-out with Rosenberg and severed ties with the dealer. He later recounted, "My reputation was beginning to enlarge, and, as is frequently the case, my dealer was afraid that if I changed direction the works might be less salable. As a result, we agreed to part" (ibid., p. 57). Although Lipchitz lost the financial security that Rosenberg had provided, he gained a new freedom that enabled him to break away from strict Cubist discipline as he entered the second decade of his career as a sculptor.

Executed in 1925, Homme à la guitare is a unique stone sculpture which was later cast in a bronze edition of 7. —Christie’s