Jacques Lipchitz

Sketch for ‘Government of the People’


Jacques Lipchitz 1891–1973
Object: 864 x 530 x 260 mm
Presented by the Lipchitz Foundation 1982

Not on display

Display caption

In 1967, Lipchitz was commissioned to make a monument for the Municipal Plaza in Philadelphia. He described his preliminary model as 'a sort of totem pole', with a pair of nude figures on each tier. According to Lipchitz's account, the upper layer is the Philadelphia city flag, although in the full size sculpture it appears to be made up of reclining figures. The title, which was given by the commissioning body after seeing early designs, is a quotation from Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address.

Gallery label, August 2004

Catalogue entry

T03481 Sketch for Government of the People 1967–8

Plaster, coated with glue 34 × 10 1/4 × 10 1/4 (864 × 260 × 260)
Not inscribed
Presented by the Lipchitz Foundation 1982
Lit: Lipchitz 1972, p.222 and repr. 200 (as ‘51"h’); A.M. Hammacher, Jacques Lipchitz, 1975, repr. 161

This group was designed by Lipchitz in response to a commission for the Muncipal Plaza in Philadelphia. He was asked to choose his own subject, and the title was only given by the committee after seeing a sketch (probably the plaster in the collection of the Kröller-Müller Museum (Otterlo 1977, n.p., repr.), which is smaller than the Tate Gallery's and better fits Lipchitz's description of the upper tier as a flag):

There was a new commission for a monumental sculpture in 1967 to be placed in the Municipal Plaza in Philadelphia. The Plaza involves in addition to the City Hall, a modern building and a number of heterogeneous nineteenth-century buildings; the original City Hall, nineteenth-century Victorian, is very interesting with the sculptural decorations done by Alexander Milne Calder, the grandfather of the sculptor Alexander Calder. So it has been quite a job to create a work that would unite these different buildings. I was not given a specific commission or theme but simply asked to make a monumental work. I did a sketch which was sort of a totem pole. At the base there is a couple, and then another couple, and this develops in groups to a climax of the Philadelphia city flag. So those concerned entitled it Government of the People. There have been many changes since the original design. In my studio I have several photographic montages which show the site with the sketch superimposed, a technique I had never used before, but which has helped me a great deal. It is on this that I am working with my assistants, the two young sculptors (Lipchitz, loc.cit.).

The structure of this composition resembles ‘Our Tree of Life’ (T03491) in the way the upper group is supported. Three pairs of nudes are represented, in three tiers: at the base a couple are touching heads and hands; at the centre two nudes turn in a spiral, reaching upwards; at the top, designed to be seen only from below, the figures are indistinct but lie horizontally.

The completed bronze was installed in Philadelphia in 1976. A photograph of the full size plaster in the foundry in Italy is reproduced in Lipchitz, Sculpture and Drawings, Marlborough Fine Art, May 1983, opp. p.22 (it is clearer in this that the group at the top are reclining figures).

[For T03397 and T03479 to T03534 the foundry inscriptions, and reproductions of casts in other materials in the books listed below, are recorded. Abbreviations used:

Arnason 1969 H.H. Arnason, Jacques Lipchitz: Sketches in Bronze, 1969

Lipchitz 1972 Jacques Lipchitz, My Life in Sculpture, 1972

Stott 1975 Deborah A. Stott, Jacques Lipchitz and Cubism, 1975 (reprinted 1978)

Otterlo 1977 A.M. Hammacher, Lipchitz in Otterlo, Rijksmuseum Kröller-Müller, Otterlo, 1977

Centre Pompidou 1978 Nicole Barbier, Lipchitz: oeuvres de Jacques Lipchitz (1891–1973) dans les collections du Musée National d'Art Moderne, Paris, 1978

Arizona 1982 Jacques Lipchitz. Sketches and Models in the collection of Arizona Museum of Art, Tucson, Arizona. Introduction and catalogue by Peter Bermingham, 1982]

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1982-84: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1986

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