Lipchitz made the first of his innovative open sculptures, which he called "transparents," in 1925. In these he combined curvilinear elements, planar forms and open spaces. The sculptor later reminisced in My Life in Sculpture, "Suddenly, I found myself playing with space, with a kind of open, lyrical construction that was a revelation to me. I felt as though I were discovering an entirely new concept of sculpture as space, of the ethereal soul of the sculpture rather than its physical corporeality" (op. cit., p. 86).
Working in this new manner, Lipchitz in 1927 completed The Joy of Life, one of his most important commissioned sculptures, which he executed for the country estate of the Viscomte Charles de Noailles. The subject was a dancer with a guitar, whose open, twisting forms are so intertwined that the instrument and its player are virtually inseparable from each other. This commission had come at difficult time for Lipchitz. The painter Juan Gris, a close friend, died in 1927 --Lipchitz served as a pall-bearer at his funeral--and the sculptor's father and only sister, as well as her husband, were gravely ill and would also soon pass away. Lipchitz intended this life-affirming work as an act of defiance in the face of ever-present illness and death.
Lipchitz treated this theme again in Nu couché a la guitare, the present sculpture, which he originally executed in black basalt the following year. He wrote: "the curved shape of the right leg is also the shape of the guitar. This is again a total assimilation of the figure to the guitar-object; even the left arm reiterates the shape of the guitar. The work is massively conceived in curvilinear volumes, with a strong sense of frontality, but involving a movement in and out of depth. Thus, the lower, or right, leg is composed at a diagonal directing the eye through the space below the left leg. Similar planar diagonals under the head and the left arm emphasize the opening void" (op. cit., p. 103).
Henry R. Hope counted Nu couché à la guitare, "whose harmonious counterpoint of solids and voids sparkle in polished black basalt," as one of Lipchitz's "finest sculptures" (in The Sculpture of Jacques Lipchitz, exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1954, p. 14). The basalt version, 27 5/8 inches (70.2 cm.) in length, was intended for garden of Madame de Moudrot in La Pradet, southern France. However, Lipchitz's patroness found it too small, and the sculptor created a second, larger version in white stone, measuring 39 3/8 inches (100 cm.), which he mounted on a rough stone base (fig. 1). The basalt version was sold by the New York dealer Curt Valentin to Mrs. John D. Rockefeller III, who placed it on extended loan as a promised gift at The Museum of Modern Art, New York. The white stone version is currently in the collection of the Kunsthaus Zürich. The bronze version of Nu couché à la guitare is two inches larger than the basalt sculpture, and there are casts in the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, The Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., and the Tate Gallery, London.
(fig. 1) Jacques Lipchitz, Nu couché à la guitare, 1928. In the garden of Madame de Maudrot, La Pradet, France; photo courtesy of the Tate Archive, London. BARCODE 23662155