In late 1916 Lipchitz signed a contract with Léonce Rosenberg, the brother of the dealer Paul Rosenberg and a former specialist in antiquities. Rosenberg had grown interested in the Cubists and was organizing his Galerie de l'Effort Moderne to show their work. He arranged to pay Lipchitz three hundred francs a month and to cover his expenses, in exchange for his output of sculptures. While Lipchitz remained in debt, he now had some measure of financial security for the first time in his life. He could now afford to work in stone, and he began to cast in bronze as well.
Now working in durable and permanent materials, Lipchitz undertook an important series of seated and standing figures, concentrating on the classical theme of the bather. The sculptor later wrote, "The bathers, observed from different angles, are reminiscent of traditional portraits of bathers as seen in the history of sculpture from ancient times through the eighteenth or nineteenth centuries."(in My Life in Sculpture, New York, 1972, p. 49).
The earliest figures in this group are seated, such as Baigneuse assise (Wilkinson, no. 59; sold Christies, New York, 9 May 2001, lot 28), and have a powerful, static, and hieratic aspect that Lipchitz associated with Egyptian art. In subsequent standing bathers (fig. 1), Lipchitz introduced, as he described, "the sense of twisting movement, of the figure spiraling around an axis. I was seeking effects that were both rich in their complexity and controlled in their simplicity. Once again I believe that these evoke the living human figure into which the forms were translated, while maintaining the purity of those forms" (ibid., pp. 46 and 49).
The present Baigneuse, a standing figure with raised arms, displays the further distillation of form that characterizes Lipchitz's sculpture in the years immediately following the end of the First World War. Like many other artists, Lipchitz was thinking in terms of a classicizing principle, the "return to order," which in painting manifested itself in the "crystal" phase of Cubism (as seen in the work of Gris and Severini). While Lipchitz retained a measure of complexity in his faceting of planar elements, their contribution to the structure of the figure is unambiguous and constructive; the parts never distract from the whole. This Baigneuse, consequently, manifests a more clearly unified design than certain previous sculptures. It rises upward in a single surging gesture, culminating in the pointed half-arch created by the bent raised arm at its summit. The sculptor's conception is monumental in feel, but still, as he described his work at this time, "of a scale suitable to fit into a room" (ibid., p. 59).
(fig. 1) Jacques Lipchitz, Baigneuse, 1917. Sale, Christie's, New York, 1 November 2005, lot 28. BARCODE 20627713.