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Jacques Lipchitz

LIPCHITZ, JACQUES (Chaim Jacob; 1891–1973), U.S. sculptor. He was born in Druskieniki, Lithuania. He attended school in Bialystok and in 1909 went to Paris, where he adopted the name Jacques. There he studied and became a French citizen in 1925. In 1930 he had a large retrospective exhibition which gave him his international reputation. In 1940 the German advance compelled him to leave Paris and seek refuge in unoccupied France. In 1941 he went to the United States, and settled in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York.

Lipchitz was one of the foremost cubist sculptors – his first pure cubist sculpture is dated 1913. He was influenced by the painters Picasso and Braque, and by the visionary El Greco. He developed an interest in African wood carvings which he collected. During this early period, Lipchitz frequently worked in stone. These pieces, with their sharp edges, flat planes, and solid mass came very close to pure abstraction.

In the 1930s, Lipchitz abandoned cubism for a markedly baroque manner of expression. At the same time, he became interested in social and philosophical themes, as distinguished from the harlequins and dancers, bathers, and musicians he had fashioned in his youth. One of the most celebrated baroque pieces is based on the Prometheus myth. His first sketches, made about 1933, show Prometheus a triumphant figure, the guardian of the flame. The second Prometheus, slightly different in feeling, shows a warrior, still in the thick of battle and unsure of triumph. This was destroyed. Lipchitz recreated it in 1943–44 for the Brazilian government, to decorate the facade of a government building in Rio de Janeiro. The final version, made for the Philadelphia Museum of Art – the superman's battle with the vulture – was Lipchitz's own rendering of the myth, since no such battle is described in ancient literature.

Lipchitz often derived inspiration from his Jewish background. Beginning in the 1930s, he frequently turned to biblical episodes or themes taken from Jewish life and history to interpret tragic or joyous events. "Man is wrestling with the Angel," he said about his "Jacob Wrestling with the Angel": "It is a tremendous struggle, but he wins and is blessed." Similar sentiments are expressed in "David and Goliath," made under the impact of the Nazi destruction. "The Prayer" (an old man swinging a rooster in the *kapparot ritual) is a grim reminder of the slaughter of Jews in Europe. "The Miracle" is inspired by the happy news of the creation of the Jewish state – an exultant figure with raised arms faces the Tablets of the Law, out of which grows the seven-branched candelabrum, the finials of which might be tiny flames, or young leaf buds of a tree.

Lipchitz's last work, The Tree of Life, a six-meter-high bronze, was unveiled posthumously on Sept. 21, 1978, outside the Hadassah Hospital on Mt. Scopus. The sculpture consists of the interwoven formalized expressionist figures of Noah, Abraham and Isaac at the Akedah, with the angel restraining the patriarch Moses in front of the Burning Bush, and rising from it a phoenix supporting the Two Tablets. Lipchitz referred to it as "the dynamics of our religion."

Lipchitz's work is represented in important museums, particularly in the United States and Israel. He left all his casts to the Israel Museum, Jerusalem.


A.M. Hammacher, Jacques Lipchitz, his Sculpture (1961); I. Patai, Encounters: The Life of Jacques Lipchitz (1961); H.H. Aranson (ed.), Jacques Lipchitz (1970).

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.