Lipchitz on portraiture

My cubist friends were all making cubist portraits. I was always against that. I had long discussions about it, especially with my good friend Gris. I felt, and still do, that it is not legitimate because a portrait is something absolutely different. It has to do with likeness, with psychology, and at the same time it must be a work of art. 1

1 Bert van Bork, Jacques Lipchitz, The Artist at Work (New York, 1966), p. 115.

An authorized account of the sitting from the sculptor's point of view

Gertrude arrived for her sittings with Lipchitz, wearing blouses and skirts over her short, stout figure and a huge beribboned hat, her appearance much like that of a royal monarch of the Commedia dell'Arte. She alighted from her old, very high Ford and made her entrance with a fanfare of hearty laughter and volubility followed by slim, intense, dark Alice Toklas. Gertrude was the most uninhibited subject Lipchitz had ever worked with, her voice deep and compelling, her huge body planted solidly with her legs apart like a tremendous Buddha. Occasionally she wrote while he worked, but when he wished her to be her vital self, he entertained her with his stories and then ensued that lighthearted give-and-take she described in her sparkling memoir.1

1 Irene Patai, Encounters: The Life of Jacques Lipchitz (New York: Funk & Wagnalls, 1961), p. 199.

Stein's portrait of Lipchitz


 Like and like likely and likely likely
  and likely like and like.
 He had a dream. He dreamed he
 heard a pheasant calling and very likely a pheasant was calling.
 To whom went.
 He had a dream he dreamed he
 heard a pheasant calling and most likely a pheasant was calling.
 In time.
 This and twenty and forty-two makes
 every time a hundred and
two thirty.
 Any time two and too say.
 When I knew him first he was looking looking through the glass and the chicken. When I knew him then he was looking looking at the looking at the looking. When I knew him then he was so tenderly standing. When I knew him then he was then after then to then by then and when I knew him then he was then we then and then for then. When I knew him then he was for then by then as then so then to then in then and so.
 He never needs to know.
 He never needs he never seeds but so so can they sink settle and rise and apprise and tries. Can at length be long. No indeed and a song. A song of so much so.
 When I know him I look at him for him and I look at him for him and I look at him for him when I know him.
 I like you very much.1

1 Gertrude Stein, "Lipchitz," Portrait's and Prayers (New York: Random House, 1934), pp. 63-64.

Stein's account of the sitting in her novel The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas

During these months after the war we were one day going down to a little street and saw a man looking in at a window and going backwards and forwards and right and left and otherwise behaving strangely. Lipschitz [sic], said Gertrude Stein. Yes, said Lipschitz, I am buying an iron cock. Where is it, we asked. Why in there, he said, and in there it was. Gertrude Stein had known Lipschitz very slightly at one time but this incident made them friends and soon he asked her to pose. He had just finished a bust of Jean Cocteau and he wanted to do her. She never minds posing, she likes the calm of it and although she does not like sculpture and told Lipschitz so, she began to pose. I remember it was a very hot spring and Lipschitz's studio was appallingly hot and they spent hours there.

Lipschitz is an excellent gossip and Gertrude Stein adores the beginning and middle and end of a story and Lipschitz was able to supply several missing parts of several stories.

And then they talked about art and Gertrude Stein rather liked her portrait and they were very good friends and the sittings were over. 1

1 Gertrude Stein, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, Inc., 1933; reprinted New York: Vintage, 1990): pp. 202-203.

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Jacques Lipchitz - Gertrude Stein (1921) Jacques Lipchitz - Gertrude Stein (1921) Bronze. Private Collection

While making this bust of the American author Gertrude Stein (1874-1946), Lipchitz seems to have been mostly unaffected by the fact that Stein was a distinguished collector of avant-garde art — especially cubism — and that he was himself a distinguished cubist sculptor. Perhaps influenced by the spirit of artistic conservatism that was prevalent in Paris after World War I, he opted to work (creatively) within his own relatively traditional definition of portraiture. Indeed, his portrayal of the famously robust writer probably owes more to ancient statues of Buddha than to any modern precedent.