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Chess Set: Board and Thirty Pieces

Julien Levy, American, 1906 - 1981

Made in United States, North and Central America


Chess Pieces: stained and painted oak; Chess Board: cast reinforced plaster with incised lines, seashells

Chess Board: 1 1/4 x 24 x 24 inches (3.2 x 61 x 61 cm)

© Philadelphia Museum of Art

Curatorial Department:
European Decorative Arts and Sculpture

Object Location:

Currently not on view

Accession Number:

Credit Line:
Purchased with the Bloomfield Moore Fund, 2007

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Art dealer Julien Levy made the plaster prototypes for this chess set in the garage studio of a house on Long Island that he and his wife shared with artists Max Ernst and Dorothea Tanning during the summer of 1944. The round-bottomed pieces—formed using discarded shells from soft-boiled eggs as molds and stored in an egg carton—were intended to nestle comfortably in the sand of the nearby beach. For use off the beach, Levy made a plaster chessboard, basing its overall size and thickness on Alberto Giacometti’s 1932 marble sculpture On ne joue plus (No More Bets). He inserted seashells into the wet plaster to accommodate the shape of the pieces and to reference the set’s original function.

These oak chess pieces, which are based on the original plaster prototypes, were likely made by a local carpenter. Levy was inspired by the experience of designing and making this chess set to commission thirty-two artists (the number of chess pieces in a set) to invent their own chess pieces and boards for an exhibition at his Manhattan gallery. This show, called The Imagery of Chess, opened on December 12, 1944.