Pierre Levai has confirmed the authenticity of this sculpture.
In 1919-1920, at the height of his mastery of the Cubist idiom, Lipchitz undertook an important series of sculptures that depict street musicians, Pierrots, and Harlequins with their instruments: guitars, mandolins, accordions, and clarinets. Although this choice of subject matter developed in part from Lipchitz's interest in Watteau and other eighteenth-century French painters, it also reflects the popularity that the world of the commedia dell'arte enjoyed at this time among the Parisian avant-garde. Both during and after the First World War, artists such as Metzinger, Derain, Severini, and Lipchitz's close friend Gris exploited the theme for its patriotic associations with Latin (versus Germanic) culture (fig. 1). In the hands of Picasso, characters from the commedia could embody either the alienated melancholy of the 1915 Arlequin or the artistic camaraderie of the 1921 Trois musiciens, both seminal works of Synthetic Cubism (Zervos, vol. 2, no. 555, and vol. 4, no. 331; both The Museum of Modern Art, New York). Catherine Pütz has written, "Like many in his circle... Lipchitz fêted the liberating effects of imaginative play by embracing the world of Italian street theater, the commedia dell'arte, producing a host of its traditionally masked characters-- Pierrots, Harlequins, and a panoply of musicians--like those that wandered through the scenes of his friend Max Jacob's poetry (his 1921 Le bal masqué, for example) or Erik Satie's musical score and Picasso's stage-setting for the ballet Parade (1917)" (Jacques Lipchitz: The First Cubist Sculptor, London, 2002, p. 23).
The sequence of musicians also provided Lipchitz with a valuable opportunity to test new formal ideas. He would later recall in his memoirs, "This was a transitional period in which I was playing variations on a number of familiar themes, more or less conscious that I needed to find a new direction, a new stimulus... The musical instruments that I used... were part of my basic vocabulary. Like the cubist painters, I collected musical instruments and decorated my studio with them. We used these objects, which were familiar parts of our everyday lives, as a kind of reaction against the noble and exalted subjects of the academicians. They were, in effect, truly neutral subjects that we could control and in terms of which we could study abstract relations" (My Life in Sculpture, New York, 1972, pp. 54-58).
Lipchitz was particularly drawn to the motif of the clarinet, the solo instrument of choice among jazz and ragtime musicians. His sculptures that depict a man with a clarinet--seven different compositions in all from 1919-1920, some executed in stone as well as bronze--allow us to trace the development of Lipchitz's art during this critical period (Wilkinson, nos. 83-90, 103-108). The present sculpture is the last in the series, and one of three examples in which the musician wears the distinctive tricorne of Harlequin; in another sculpture he dons the round, wide-brimmed hat of Pierrot, while in the remaining three, he has no distinguishing headgear. In the earliest examples in the series (e.g. fig. 2), Lipchitz retained the complex faceting and the spiraling composition that had characterized much of his work since 1917. By the time that he sculpted the present version, in contrast, he had moved toward a greater frontality and larger, more simplified forms. Although the emphasis on intersecting, oblique lines produces a sense of dynamism appropriate to the lively subject matter, this is countered by the wide stance of the figure and the overall symmetry of the composition, both of which have a stabilizing effect. The increased clarity and solidity of Lipchitz's Cubism in the present sculpture reflect the growing influence of a classicizing "call to order" that had begun in the final years of the First World War, which also informed the Purist paintings of Ozenfant and Jeanneret (later known as Le Corbusier) and the "crystalline Cubism" of Gris, Severini, and Metzinger.
Although Lipchitz had been recognized as a leading proponent of Cubism since 1916, when he signed a contract with Léonce Rosenberg, he enjoyed a conspicuous boost in his reputation around the same time that he made the present sculpture. In early 1920, his inaugural one-man show, at Rosenberg's Galerie de l'Effort Moderne, attracted the attention of the influential writer Maurice Raynal, who published the first monograph on Lipchitz's work shortly thereafter. Lipchitz had also begun to frequent the homes of the leading beau-monde figures of the day, including Gertrude Stein, Jean Cocteau, and Coco Chanel, all of whom commissioned portrait busts from him around this time. Later in 1920, Lipchitz had a falling-out with Rosenberg and severed ties with the dealer. He later recounted, "My reputation was beginning to enlarge, and, as is frequently the case, my dealer was afraid that if I changed direction the works might be less salable. As a result, we agreed to part" (ibid., p. 57). Although Lipchitz lost the financial security that Rosenberg had provided, he gained a new freedom that enabled him to break away from strict Cubist discipline as he entered the second decade of his career as a sculptor.
(fig. 1) Juan Gris, Pierrot à la guitare, 1919. Musée national d'art Moderne.
Barcode: 2885 29199
(fig. 2) Jacques Lipchitz, Arlequin à la clarinette, 1919. Sold, Christie's, New York, 6 November 2008, lot 56.
Barcode: 2665 3006