Jacques Lipchitz

Sketch for Lower Part of ‘Our Tree of Life’


Jacques Lipchitz 1891–1973
Object: 558 x 177 x 228 mm
Presented by the Lipchitz Foundation 1982

Not on display

Display caption

This is a preparatory study for a section of Lipchitz's monument to Judaism Our Tree of Life. The stacking of interrelated elements was characteristic of his later works. Here, Lipchitz isolates Abraham as the physical and conceptual 'trunk' of the tree, while the angel prevents him from sacrificing Isaac. The monumental version (six metres in height) at Mount Scopas in Jerusalem was only inaugurated in 1978, five years after Lipchitz's death.

Gallery label, August 2004

Catalogue entry

T03525 Sketch for Lower Part of Our Tree of Life 1962

Plaster 22 × 7 × 9 (558 × 177 × 228)
Not inscribed
Presented by the Lipchitz Foundation 1982

Lit: Arnason 1969, repr.157 (complete plaster, another cast); Lipchitz 1972, pp.198–9 (complete bronze repr. 181); The Jacques Lipchitz ‘tree of life’, Hadassah University Hospital, Jerusalem, n.d.

This plaster is the lower half of a 34ins. high study, which is reproduced complete in Arnason. For some reason Arnason illustrates a plaster, and not a bronze, but a bronze cast was made, and is reproduced in A.M. Hammacher, Jacques Lipchitz, 1975, repr. 165.

Six studies for this composition, all on the same scale, have been published:

1. ‘The Sacrifice of Abraham’, plaster in the collection of the Kröller-Müller Museum (Otterlo 1977, n.p., repr., dated in the catalogue 1960–1)

2. T03525. Lowest part only

3. T03491. Study for complete composition

4. ‘Study for the lower part of Our Tree of Life’, 1970, bronze, 11 1/2ins., in A.M. Hammacher, op.cit., repr. 166.

5. ‘Sketch for Our Tree of Life’, 1971–2, bronze, in Jacques Lipchitz: Sculptor and Collector, exhibition catalogue, Albert and Vera List Visual Arts Centre, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, March–June 1985 (15, repr.).

6. ‘Our Tree of Life (last working model)’, plaster, in A.M. Hammacher, op.cit., repr.167.

Lipchitz records that there were many other studies, the earliest of which were destroyed in the studio fire in 1952.

The final version of ‘Our Tree of Life’ was installed on Mount Scopas, Jerusalem, in 1978 (after Lipchitz's death). He had received this commission in 1967, from the Hadassah University Hospital, and enlarged and developed the studies for a Jewish monument which he had already been making for years beforehand. The origin of this scheme was his wish to make a monumental sculpture for the Hebrew religion that was a parallel to the sculpture of the Virgin Mary which he had been commissioned to make for the church of Notre Dame de Liesse at Assy, near Chamonix, in 1947. There is a similarity between the structures of ‘Our Tree of Life’ and the last models for ‘Between Heaven and Earth’ (the title of the Assy monument) made in 1958, particularly in the way the separate subjects are piled on top of each other. In both sculptures the uppermost group rests on a similar support of curving shapes, so that in a general view the design of the earlier group is continued in the later, although the subjects differ.

The subject of ‘Our Tree of Life’ has several overlapping interpretations, as described by Lipchitz in his autobiography (which was based on taped conversations of 1968–70, while he was still working on the later models of the sculpture). As a whole, the composition was seen as a tree, and as a sequence of subjects illustrating the development of Judaism. A later description published by the Hadassah University Hospital, Jerusalem (op.cit) refers to the whole monument as a seven branched candelabrum. The particular groups from which it is made, are, numbering upwards from the base:

1. The sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham, interrupted by an angel (this is the only group in T03525)

2. The three Patriarchs

3. The flames of the burning bush, which enclose Moses, kneeling in front of the tablets of the law.

4. The phoenix.

This plaster has not been broken, but is one of the two halves in which the clay model was cast.

[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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