Pierre Levai has confirmed the authenticity of this work.
Executed in 1918 during the height of Lipchitz’s Cubist period, Composition cubiste is a beautifully rendered example of his rigorously architectural interpretation of the style’s syntax, emphasizing extreme verticality and layered rectangular planes. In this painting, Lipchitz presents an embracing couple with their abstracted fragments captivatingly comingled. The theme of the embrace, usually of the erotic variety, is repeated in Lipchitz’s maquettes of the 1920s and 1930s. Moreover, the work reflects Lipchitz’s full embrace of the aesthetic principles of deconstructing and abstracting forms. After moving to Paris in 1909, Lipchitz quickly joined the artistic communities of Montmartre and Montparnasse which included a young Pablo Picasso, Juan Gris, and Amedeo Modigliani. By 1915 he had adopted the Cubist aesthetic principles through his art, and in Gris, Lipchitz found a close friend and companion in artistic innovation. This brief yet intense relationship greatly influenced the styles of both artists. With the onslaught of German bombings in Paris in 1918, Lipchitz and his wife Berthe moved to Beaulieu-le-Loches where they temporarily shared a house with Gris and his wife. Frustrated by the restrictions on his ability to produce sculpture in his new setting, especially in bronze, Lipchitz turned his attention to gouaches such as Composition cubiste, as well as carving in stone.
As the title suggests, the true subject of this painting is the composite and multifaceted rendering of space, the beauty of the abstracted geometric shapes, and the complex relationships between the figures. The artist masterfully eliminates all traditional perspectival clues from the composition by flattening the couple into geometric, two-dimensional forms pulled parallel to the picture plane. He achieves a simultaneous portrayal of multiple viewpoints through his use of color and forms that delineate the various spatial planes and body parts of the composition. Regarding his drawings and paintings circa 1915, Lipchitz explains, “When I drew I was thinking about pronounced planes and I used color to indicate the positions of the planes in space, with the white closest, the gray in the middle distance, and the black farthest back as though it were in shadow” (My Life in Sculpture, New York, 1972, p. 31). Each architectonic component element contributes to a harmonious, rhythmic pattern across the picture plane.
(fig. 1) Jacques Lipchitz, Composition cubiste, 1918. Sold, Christie’s, New York, 9 May 2013, lot 127.