On 8 December 2015, during the Hermitage Days – 2015, in the General Staff building the permanent display of the Jacques Lipchitz Room, prepared by the State Hermitage’s Department of Contemporary Art, was opened.
As Mikhail Borisovich Piotrovsky, General Director of the State Hermitage, stressed: “Today we are opening the room of one of the 20th century’s foremost sculptors – Jacques Lipchitz. This is one of the greatest gifts for the museum’s jubilee. All the Hermitage displays are special: they should not repeat other museums. In all museums around the world the displays of contemporary art are the same, but we have so far managed to avoid doing one and the same thing, what everybody else does.” Ten sculptures and 13 drawings were donated to the Hermitage by the Jacques and Yulla Lipchitz Foundation with the active involvement of the Hermitage Museum Foundation (USA). Mikhail Piotrovsky presented an honorary certificate from the State Hermitage to the Jacques and Yulla Lipchitz Foundation for its support of the museum’s programmes.
Jacques Lipchitz (1891–1973) was an outstanding French and American sculptor whose work heralded a fundamental change in the perception of artistic forms and became, along with the works of Pablo Picasso and Mark Chagall, one of the symbols of modern art. Lipchitz was born in the town of Druskininkai in Lithuania. More than once, the circumstances of his life forced him to change his place of residence. From Poland, where he went to school, in 1909 he moved to Paris in order to obtain an artistic education in the Académie Julian. Then in 1941, when he was already a recognized artist, he was forced to emigrate to the United States, where he lived until his death in 1973. The artist was obliged to leave all his works in occupied France and only years later did he manage to recover his archive.
Lipchitz’s artistic method was founded upon the classical tradition of the 19th century: the sculptor worked in several stages. First he worked up his graphic sketch in clay, then in plaster, and only then in stone or bronze. With time, a subtle grasp of the characteristics of his materials and attention to technique, as well as great mastery, enabled Lipchitz to push back the boundaries of this classical approach and to apply it to new forms. It is this that accounts for the variety of his artistic legacy: terracottas, plaster pieces, graphic art, stone and bronze sculptures make it possible to trace the evolution of subject motifs and gradual changes of style – from laconic Cubism to Expressionism and works created in the “semi-automatic” technique.
On display in the Jacques Lipchitz Room in the State Hermitage are graphic art and sculptures that not only reflect various stages in the artist’s oeuvre, but also make it possible to get an idea of his methods of working with various materials, techniques and themes. In the sculptural group Jacob and the Angel (1931), where the influence of Cubism is still evident, the artist’s interest in the formal aspect of the depiction of two interacting figures – embrace or struggle – supplements his interest in the Old Testament story. Lipchitz would turn repeatedly to biblical subjects and classical mythology throughout his life.
Other important, but far more personal, images for the artist were those of the mother and child, in which themes connected with the artist’s biography found expression — family, moves, the search for a home, through which liberation is perceived and the search for oneself. One such work is The Return of the Child (1941–46), the first sketches for which were made as far back as 1933. In his diaries Lipchitz noted that the child symbolizes his sculpture as a whole.
Inspiration (1955) is one of the later works created in the technique that the artist himself called “semi-automatic”. Here is a passage from his memoirs: “As I recounted earlier, my assistant, Isadore Grossman, one day came to me in a fury, saying that the teacher had been talking about modern sculpture and a girl had asked him what he thought of the sculpture of Lipchitz. The teacher had had a lump of clay in his hands and had let it fall on the floor, where it splattered, saying that that was a Lipchitz. I only said, ‘That is a rather interesting idea. I think I might try to make some such sculptures.’ So arose the idea of the semi-automatics, in which I would just splash or squeeze a piece of warm wax in my hands, put it in a basin of water without looking at it, and then let it harden in cold water. When I took it out and examined it, the lump suggested many different images to me. Automatically a particular image would emerge several times and this I would choose to develop and clarify. Up to this point my acts were purely automatic; from here on they were completely conscious.” (Jacques Lipchitz and H.H. Arnason, My Life in Sculpture, 1972, pp. 193f)
The sculptor’s portrait works are represented by two examples, the early Portrait of Géricault (1933) and the late Bust of Kennedy (1964–65). The image of the French artist Théodore Géricault, the painter of the famous Raft of the Medusa, particularly interested Lipchitz. He produced several variants of this portrait – from the maximally realistic one in the display to an expressionistic version. The bust of American president John F. Kennedy was commissioned by a student organization in London and later repeated for the city of Newark, New Jersey.
Particularly interesting in the display are the artist’s graphic sketches that not only provide an idea of an important stage in the work on a sculpture, but also show the great sculptor as a draughtsman.
The permanent display of The Jacques Lipchitz Room has been created in the General Staff building as part of the Hermitage 20/21 project that aims to collect, exhibit and study art of the 20th and 21st centuries. The new display splendidly supplements the already functioning Ilya Kabakov and Dmitry Prigov Rooms.