Lot 25
  • 25

Jacques Lipchitz

1,000,000 - 1,500,000 USD
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  • Jacques Lipchitz
  • Pierrot au clarinet
  • Inscribed J. Lipchitz and numbered 4/7 and XI-19
  • Bronze
  • Height: 29 1/4 in.
  • 74.3 cm


Madelyn Kreisler, Greenwich, Connecticut (acquired by 1955)

Thence by descent to the present owner


Alan G. Wilkinson, The Sculpture of Jacques Lipchitz, A Catalogue Raisonné, The Paris Years, 1910-1940, vol. I, London & New York, 1996, no. 84, illustration of another cast (2/7) p. 51


Excellent condition. The work features a light brown to almost copper patina. The work is structurally sound and in overall good condition with no visible surface abrasions.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

This full-length sculpture of a standing Pierrot playing a clarinet was conceived in 1919, ten years after Lipchitz's arrival in Paris from Vilna in 1909. He initially received a traditional training at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts and the Academie Julian, but already at the onset of his career, the artist displayed an interest in a wide range of sculptural styles, from classical to tribal. During his early years in the French capital, Lipchitz met many of the leading figures of the Parisian avant-garde, who introduced him to new artistic interpretations, including the techniques of cubism. By the time he executed this work in 1919, Lipchitz had succeeded in defining a cubist language in sculpture that effectively transformed the tenets of this seminal movement into his chosen medium. The artist's most successful works arise from the years directly following World War I, when he collaborated closely with Juan Gris. 

Lipchitz invoked the art historical tradition of commedia dell'arte in a series of standing musicians in 1919 which masterfully articulates his new sculptural vocabulary in the treatment of a conventional subject. He referred to this preoccupation in his autobiography: "One of the first sculptures made in 1919 was the Arlequin à l'accordéon. It reflects my interest in eighteenth century paintings, particularly that of Watteau... The Pierrots and harlequins were part of our general vocabulary, characters taken from the Commedia dell'arte, particularly popular in the eighteenth century.  We may have been attracted to them originally because of their gay traditional costumes, involving many different colored areas" (Jacques Lipchitz, My Life in Sculpture, New York, 1972, p. 58).

We can identify the subject of the present work as Pierrot due to the distinctive costume and particularly the wide-rimmed collar that encircles his face. The artist's turn to the stock characters of commedia dell'arte reflected the trends of the early avant-garde in Paris. Cézanne invoked the Pierrot in important paintings of the late 1880s while Picasso used these characters, particularly the Harlequin and Pierrot, in masterworks from his Blue Period up through large-scale paintings from the 1960s. These artists all admitted a debt to Jean-Antoine Watteau, whose painting of Pierrot holds a prominent position in the collection of the Musée du Louvre in Paris.

The interpretation that Lipchitz offers us here captures the litheness of the figure, as well as his playful naïvete. Pierrot was often depicted as a figure lost in love, usually performing to draw the attention of Columbine. Though the composition here is clearly abstract, Lipchitz includes important elements such as the figure's collar and ruffled top, and the soundholes of the clarinet, that allow the viewer to reconstruct the subject. These important visual cues incite the playful game of symbols and recognition that fueled the cubist project and revolutionized the formal tenets of representation in art of the twentieth century.

This work was cast in an edition of seven casts during the artist's lifetime, and the present bronze was cast at the Modern Art Foundry in New York in the 1950s and numbered 4. Other casts from the edition appear in the collections of the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum at Washington University in St. Louis (2/7) and the David and Alfred Smart Museum of Art at the University of Chicago (6/7). The present cast was acquired by noted American collector Madelyn Kreisler before 1955 and has remained in the family's collection since then. Mrs. Kreisler amassed an impressive collection of European Impressionism and early avant-garde works of art at her home in Connecticut and was a generous supporter of the arts in her native New Orleans.  Mrs. Kreisler donated many of the works she collected to the New Orleans Museum of Art.