Jacques Lipchitz

Sketch for ‘Bellerophon Taming Pegasus’


Not on display

Jacques Lipchitz 1891–1973
Object: 522 × 407 × 127 mm
Presented by the Lipchitz Foundation 1982

Display caption

For Lipchitz, the capture of the flying horse Pegasus by the Greek hero Bellerophon symbolised the control of nature by human intelligence. He selected the theme specifically for a sculpture at the Columbia University School of Law in New York. Bellerophon stands at the bottom of the composition, pulling down Pegasus's head and tying a rope around his neck. The final sculpture, set in place in 1977, is more than eleven metres high.

Gallery label, August 2004

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Catalogue entry

T03480 Sketch for Bellerophon Taming Pegasus 1964

Plaster 20 3/4 × 16 × 5 (522 × 407 × 127)
Not inscribed
Presented by the Lipchitz Foundation 1982
Lit: Lipchitz 1972, pp.xxxii-xxxiii, 168 and 213–14; Albert Elsen, Duets of Line and Shadow, Art News, LXXVII, March 1978, pp.64, 66

Lipchitz was commissioned in 1964 to make a sculpture to be placed over the entrance of the Columbia University School of Law, New York. This new building had then been designed but not constructed, and Lipchitz made his first maquettes, of which this plaster is one, after studying a model and talking to the architect, Max Abramovitz. Lipchitz chose the subject, on the basis first of all of the shape needed to contrast with the building, and then for a subject which included a horse (Lipchitz, loc.cit.). He had previously made different sculptures of Bellerophon in 1929 (a ‘transparent’) and in 1944–50 (‘Pegasus Giving Birth to the Muses’).

Four other maquettes of the same date, cast in bronze, are illustrated in the autobiography (reprs. 195a-d). The Modern Art Foundry, New York, were at this time casting Lipchitz's collection of his own maquettes, and were therefore ready to preserve an unusually large number of his studies for this commission. Another cast of the Tate Gallery's plaster, slightly damaged, is in the collection of the Kröller-Müller Museum (Otterlo 1979, n.p., repr.).

Bellerophon is shown capturing the flying horse Pegasus by tying a rope around his neck. In Lipchitz's account (which varies from the usual Greek myth) this was to enable him to carry out the tasks set by Zeus before he would be allowed to marry his daughter. According to Lipchitz Pegasus represents ‘the wild forces of nature’, which are captured and used by the intelligence of man. This is related to the origin of law, and so appropriate for Columbia School of Law, since correct behaviour follows also from the observation of nature (Lipchitz does not, in his autobiography, make the more obvious parallel between Bellerophon's taming of Pegasus and the restraints of law on the naturally wild nature of man, and his reference to the observation of nature puts the subject into the context of the morality of the artist's life and the rules of art, derived from nature).

The completed monument at Columbia University was unveiled after Lipchitz's death, in November 1977.

[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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