Lipchitz modeled the plaster version of Danseuse espagnole (Barañano, no. 16; Tel Aviv Museum of Art) while on vacation in Spain in the summer of 1914. During the previous year he had become a close friend of the Mexican artist Diego Rivera, who was painting cubist canvases and introduced the sculptor to Picasso. Rivera asked Lipchitz to join him and some friends on a trip to Spain. Lipchitz wrote in his memoir: "In Spain we visited Madrid, where I was immediately excited by the revelation of the great paintings in the Prado, particularly those of El Greco and Goya. I could see at once the relations of El Greco's powerful expressive, angular paintings to cubism. In a different but equally forceful manner I reacted to Goya. These impressions have remained with me for the rest of my life. It was the trip to Spain and all the impressions I gathered there which made me take the final step toward cubism" (My Life in Sculpture, New York, 1972, p. 18).
While spending time on Mallorca with his friends, Lipchitz made drawings of a sailor serenading a young girl with his guitar. When he was back in Madrid, using materials from artists he had befriended there, he modeled a plaster sculpture, Marin et guitar (B., no. 17; Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterloo). Soon thereafter he created Jeune fille à la tresse (B., no. 19; Musée nationale d'art moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris) and, inspired by a meeting with the renowned bullfighter Joselito, he began Le Toréador, which he completed in Paris the following year (B., no. 18; fig. 1). The outbreak of hostilities in August 1914, marking the beginning of the First World War, prevented Lipchitz, Rivera and their companions from returning to France at the end of the summer as they had planned. They remained in Spain until December, and before he returned to France, Lipchitz executed a fourth plaster on a Spanish subject, Danseuse espagnole (cited above), which served as the model for the present bronze.
Lipchitz took a constructive approach to his early cubist sculptures, reflecting the synthetic mode seen in cubist painting and collage during this period. In Marin et guitar he noted his interest was in "building up the figure from its abstract forms, not merely simplifying and geometrizing a realistic figure. At the same time I would like to emphasize that I never lost sight of the gay young sailor who first suggested the subject" (ibid.). Lipchitz used block-like units set along a vertical axis to construct the figure of Danseuse espagnole--notice how the hips and pleated segments of her tiered skirt have been stacked slightly off-center to avoid symmetry and add dynamism to her stance. His formal priorities notwithstanding, Lipchitz took pleasure in representing stylized details of local Spanish color; the dancer's costume is complete with abanico (fan), peineta (hair comb) and pañoleta (shawl).
The sculptor's characterization of the dancer's features creates a powerful impression, and indeed, her large eyes and riveting, frontally directed gaze suggest the primary stylistic influences at work here, which Lipchitz shared at this time with fellow sculptors Modigliani and Zadkine. While one is tempted to read into these features the impact of tribal art, which Lipchitz had already begun to collect by this time, the sculptor preferred to point to other sources: "I was very conscious of the examples of Egyptian and archaic Greek sculpture [which] had many points of relationship in its accent on simplicity and directness. The Egyptians and ancient Greeks also used multiple points of view that the cubists adopted." Lipchitz noted that his cubist sculptures "tended to be flat and frontalized in the manner of Egyptian figures... Thus it is possible to see the many roots of my cubism. In 1915 I was still only twenty-four years old, but I had been studying continually since I came to Paris in 1909 and I now felt I knew exactly what I wanted to do" (ibid., pp. 25-26).
(fig. 1) Jacques Lipchitz, Le Toréador, plaster, 1914-1915. Tate Gallery, London.