Details & Cataloguing

Impressionist & Modern Art Day Sale

New York

Jacques Lipchitz
1891 - 1973
Inscribed JLipchitz, numbered 7/7 and marked with the artist's thumbprint
Height: 28 1/2 in.
72.4 cm
Conceived in 1919 and cast in a numbered edition of 7.
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The authenticity of this work has kindly been confirmed by Pierre Levai.


Marlborough Gallery, Inc., New York
Acquired from the above in 1978


New York, Marlborough Gallery, Inc., Jacques Lipchitz Sculptures and Drawings from the Cubist Epoch, 1977, no. 24, illustrated in the catalogue 


Alan G. Wilkinson, The Sculpture of Jacques Lipchitz, A Catalogue Raisonné, vol. I, London, 1996, no. 90, illustration of another cast p. 52

Catalogue Note

Conceived ten years after Lipchitz’s arrival in Paris, Arlequin à la clarinette exemplifies his exploration of Cubism in a three-dimensional medium and the singular success the artist had in synthesizing the revolutionary artistic movement in sculptural form. Born in Lithuania, the young Lipchitz moved to Paris in 1909 to receive a traditional and highly academic artistic education at the École des Beaux-Arts and the Académie Julian. An encounter with Picasso, however, persuaded Lipchitz to abandon the classical representation of human form. In 1916, Lipchitz signed a contract with the dealer Léonce Rosenberg, who also represented Picasso, Braque, Gris and Rivera. This placed him in the pantheon of “true Cubists” and at the forefront of Cubist sculpture. Rosenberg arranged to pay Lipchitz three hundred francs a month and cover his expenses in exchange for his sculptural production. For the first time in his life, the artist had some sense of financial security; he was at liberty to work in stone and cast in bronze as well.

The artist’s interest in the stock characters of the 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 both characters appear throughout Picasso's oeuvre, especially his masterworks of the Blue Period. As Lipchitz himself described: "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). Like many other artists during and immediately following World War I, Lipchitz was thinking in terms of a classicizing principle, the rappel à l’ordre. Among others, Jean Cocteau had influentially advocated a “return” during these years to the sculpturally solid forms found in classical art. The inspiration, Lipchitz maintained, came from eighteenth-century painting, and in particular that of Watteau whose celebrated painting of a Pierrot belongs to the Musée du Louvre in Paris.

The works that Lipchitz conceived during this period of intense creativity were the result of his wrestling with the problem of deconstructing form using a medium that was inherently solid. With their geometricized bodies twisting and turning in space, the present work and its companion sculptures exemplify the complexity of his task. His faceting of the planar elements in Arlequin à la clarinette is both highly technical and aesthetically nuanced. Yet the fragmented forms also build up the structure of the figure in a manner that is unambiguous, with the intricate staging of positive and negative shapes allowing for a remarkable play of light. We can identify the subject as a harlequin due to his distinctive costume, in particular the wide-rimmed collar that frames his face, his jaunty hat and the buttons that run diagonally down his bust.

Impressionist & Modern Art Day Sale

New York