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Jacques Lipchitz (1891–1973), one of the most acclaimed and innovative sculptors of the twentieth century, had a longstanding connection with Philadelphia, where his work can be seen in the Museum, opposite City Hall, along the Schuylkill River, as well as at The Barnes Foundation in Merion.
A Jewish immigrant from Lithuania, Lipchitz moved to Paris in 1909 and then to America in 1941. During the last three decades of his life, Lipchitz was a frequent visitor to Philadelphia, where he worked on two major public commissions, was twice honored for his sculpture by the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and had an important exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 1964. Not surprisingly then, the Philadelphia Museum of Art owns one of the largest collections of Lipchitz’s work outside of Israel. These holdings were further enriched by the recent gift of five sculptures by the Jacques and Yulla Lipchitz Foundation in honor of the Museum’s 125th anniversary.
Lipchitz is perhaps best known for the Cubist work he made in Paris in the 1910s, and the Museum owns several important examples, including Sailor with Guitar (1914) and Woman with Braid (1914), both conceived during a trip to Spain in the company of the Mexican painter Diego Rivera. In the next decade, following the success of his Barnes Foundation commission in 1923, Lipchitz became the pre-eminent sculptor of the Cubist movement, receiving international recognition. In 1925, the heavy, angular forms, which had characterized Lipchitz’s Cubist output, gave way to the more abstract forms of his openwork sculptures, inspired in part by the African art that he so passionately collected. During and after the Second World War Lipchitz tried to give artistic expression to the turbulence and suffering of the preceding decade by modeling a number of mythological and biblical groups that are characterized by Baroque pathos and highly expressive gestures.
The Museum owns some outstanding examples of the artist’s allegorical late work, including The Prayer (1943) and Prometheus Strangling the Vulture (1944–53). Beyond the Museum’s walls, Lipchitz’s The Spirit of Enterprise (1950–60) can be found on Kelly Drive, while the controversial Government of the People (1965–1976) dominates the Municipal Services Building Plaza opposite City Hall, where it looms over a realistic statue of Mayor Frank Rizzo, who bitterly opposed its placement in Philadelphia. Supporters of this powerful symbol of democracy, led by R. Sturgis Ingersoll, eventually succeeded in having the work on public view in time for the nation’s Bicentennial in 1976.
This exhibition traces the development of Lipchitz’s art as represented in the Museum’s holdings and selected objects from local area private collections, as well as some related works by other artists. Some fifty objects are on view, including sculptures, drawings, prints and photographs.