Conceived in 1917, Baigneuse assise is one of a series of sculptures by Jacques Lipchitz depicting a seated bather. With a succession of interlocking segments and curvilinear planes, Lipchitz has conveyed the rhythmic undulations of the figure’s form, her long, slender neck and bent knee. One of the most prominent cubist sculptors, Lipchitz used the pictorial vocabulary of the radical art movement, namely the deconstruction and analysis of objects, space and volume, and applied it to sculpture, breaking mass down into a composite structure of forms. Dating from an important period in Lipchitz’s career when he was imbuing his geometric constructions with a sense of twisting movement and a greater human presence, Baigneuse assise demonstrates Lipchitz’s aptitude and natural affinity for sculpture.
Lipchitz had first turned to the subject of the bather in 1915 as a site for his earliest experimentations with Cubism. In Paris, Lipchitz had met the Mexican artist, Diego Rivera who introduced him to Pablo Picasso and many of the leading avant-garde artists at this time. In 1914, Lipchitz travelled to Mallorca with Rivera. Inspired by the radical new artistic style pioneered by Picasso, as well as the austere geometry of the Spanish landscape, Lipchitz began to turn away from the classically-inspired style of sculpture he had been working in, and started to integrate a cubist vocabulary into his work. Once back in Paris in 1915, the artist started to experiment with this new pictorial style, turning away from anatomical representation towards an abstract vision composed of angular geometric planes, while still seeking to imbue his cubist constructions with a human element, balancing figuration with abstraction. Baigneuse assise exemplifies the equilibrium that Lipchitz was searching for, encapsulating his explorations of the previous years. He wrote of an earlier version of Baigneuse assise conceived in 1916, the year before the present work, ‘…the Baigneuse assise as a figure takes on a greater human presence. While it is still in every way an organisation of plastic masses and volumes, the sense of humanity gives it a specific personality, a broody quality emphasised by the shadowed face framed in the heavy, hanging locks of hair. In this work I think I clearly achieved the king of poetry which I felt to be essential in the total impact’ (J. Lipchitz, My Life in Sculpture, London, 1973, pp. 44-45).
Lipchitz conceived Baigneuse assise during a particularly prolific time in his career, when he was beginning to gain financial security and increasing artistic renown. In 1916, the artist signed an agreement with Léonce Rosenberg, who was offering contracts to a host of cubist artists - including Braque, Gris, Léger, Metzinger, Laurens and Gleizes - who were left without a dealer when Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler had been exiled in Switzerland at the outbreak of the First World War. Rosenberg gave Lipchitz a monthly stipend and with this regular financial income Lipchitz was able to hire assistants, use a greater range of materials and cast in bronze.