Lipchitz experienced an emotional and creative crisis during the summer of 1915. By this time he had assimilated the discipline of cubist form, and his sculpture displayed a rigorously architectural interpretation of synthetic cubist syntax, emphasizing extreme verticality and layered rectangular planes. The resulting figures had the appearance of mechanical devices, and their elongated, surging forms reminded some critics of Gothic cathedrals. "In certain pieces I carried my findings all the way to abstraction, but most of these abstract works I have destroyed since I felt that when I had lost the sense of the subject, of its humanity, I had gone too far" (J. Lipchitz and H.H. Arnason, op. cit., p. 26).
The sculptor countered this tendency in his work by making realistic portraits of his friends, a step that recalls Picasso's contemporaneous foray into neo-classicism as a means of reclaiming the figure as a subject in a repertory which for several years had been composed mostly of objects. Lipchitz recalled: "This was like going to school again, and most of these portraits I also destroyed. However, they did help me to find my path once more" (ibid.).
The sculptor's own material circumstances also improved at this juncture. Léonce Rosenberg stepped into the vacuum left when cubist dealer Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, a German citizen, was forced to leave France for the duration of the First World War. Rosenberg made sale arrangements with as many of the cubist artists as he could for his own Galerie l'Effort Moderne. Lipchitz signed a contract with Rosenberg in the winter of 1916. The sculptor received 300 francs each month and had his expenses covered; in turn he turned over to Rosenberg everything he created. Although Lipchitz was still in debt, his day-to-day financial worries were over, and his self-confidence was reflected in the great series of mature cubist figures that he now undertook and that would occupy him until the end of the decade.
The present work initiated this significant phase in Lipchitz's sculpture. The artist wrote:
The Seated Bather represents again an important change and development in my cubism. In a sense, it marked a new phase symptomatic of the free-standing cubist sculptures I did between 1916 and the early 1920s. It was finished first in stone and later cast in bronze, as was the case with most of the works of this period. The figure here is treated even more massively than the two earlier works [Man with Guitar, 1915 and Man with Mandoline, 1916; Wilkinson, nos. 42 and 53 respectively]. Although it is extremely compact, there is a greater use of twisting diagonals and curvilinear forms suggesting a three-dimensional spiraling of the figure on an axis. Here I began to abandon that rigid vertical-horizontal aspect that marked the works of the preceding years. It is also true, I think, that the Seated Bather as a figure takes on a greater human presence. While it is still in every way an organization of plastic masses and volumes, the sense of humanity gives it a specific personality, a brooding quality emphasized by the shadowed face framed in the heavy, hanging locks of the hair. In this work I think I clearly achieved the kind of poetry which I felt to be essential in the total impact. When I finished the Seated Bather, I realized and was excited by the significance of the new departure, the new syntax of forms. (ibid., pp. 42 and 45)