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Jaques Lipchitz was a pioneer of nonrepresentational sculpture. He was born Chaim Jacob Lipschitz in Druskininkai, Lithuania (then part of the Russian Empire) in August 1891. He studied engineering from 1906-1909 in Vilnius, Lithuania but, with his mother’s support, he moved to Paris in 1909 to study art at the École des Beaux-Arts and the Académie Julian. He quickly became fascinated by the French avant-garde and studied sculpture to better understand modern art.
After a brief stint in the Imperial Russian Army from 1912-13, he returned to Paris and was introduced to Pablo Picasso by Diego Rivera. In the artistic community congregated in Montmartre and Montparnasse, he also met Juan Gris and became close friends with Amedeo Modigliani, who painted a now-famous portrait of Lipchitz and his wife Berthe in 1916.
Picasso along with George Braque had pioneered the Cubist style around 1907 and Lipchitz began to translate the experimental Cubist plane from paper to three-dimensional sculpture. He worked exclusively in solid blocks or in low-relief still lifes to simulate the polychromatic prisms of Cubist paintings.
By 1912, he was exhibiting at the Salon de la Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts and at the famed Salon d'Automne. His first solo show was held at Léonce Rosenberg's Galerie L'Effort Moderne in Paris in 1920. In 1922, he was commissioned by the Barnes Foundation in Merion, Pennsylvania to execute seven bas-reliefs and two sculptures.
Around 1925, Lipchitz began to feel the limitations of Cubism and wanted to open up the solid core of his sculptures to make room for light and space. He experimented in his studio and finally achieved works with larger openings, airy and transparent works that were cast from small fragile cardboard-and-wax constructions. He referred to this series as ‘transparents’.
Between 1924-1925, he became a French citizen. However, during World War II he fled from France and went to the United States in 1941. In New York City he established his international reputation. He was included in the Third Sculpture International Exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in the summer of 1949. In 1954, a retrospective of his work travelled from the Museum of Modern Art to the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis and The Cleveland Museum of Art.
In his later years, Lipchitz embraced his Jewish faith which coincided with a renewed desire to return to solid sculptures. He created monumental works that conveyed the emotional expression of his transparents but with the solidity of his earlier works.
From 1963, he spent several months a year working in Pietrasanta, Italy, near the famed marble quarries that were mined by the Renaissance masters as well as contemporary sculptors like Henry Moore and Fernando Botero. In 1972, the Metropolitan Museum of Art held an exhibition of his sculptures. He died in Capri, Italy in 1973 and his body was flown to Jerusalem for burial.