Jacques Lipchitz

Study for Monument to ‘The Spirit of Enterprise’


Not on display

Jacques Lipchitz 1891–1973
Object: 803 × 724 × 321 mm
Purchased 1959


This object is a three-dimensional study in bronze produced by American artist Jacques Lipchitz in 1953 as a preparatory work for a much larger public sculpture entitled The Spirit of Enterprise. It takes the form of a semi-abstract figure of a man shown in the act of walking, his right leg thrust forward in a large and powerful stride. The rounded forms of his muscles, particularly in the left leg, appear to strain in readiness for fluid movement and also indicate the figure’s physical strength. His torso is tilted, giving a further sense of dynamism and forward momentum, and his right arm is raised as if to shade his eyes as he looks into the distance. In his left hand he holds a staff – the caduceus carried by the Greek messenger god Hermes which symbolises commerce. Sitting on a curving form rising up in front of the figure, and pointing the way ahead, is a bird resembling an eagle – the emblem of the United States. Both man and bird rest on a thick cuboid platform that is also cast in bronze.

The artist produced numerous preparatory versions for The Spirit of Enterprise, including the plaster sculpture Sketch for Enterprise 1953 (Tate T03493). Lipchitz’s method of working on such studies came from his traditional training at the École des Beaux Arts and the Académie Julian in Paris, where he studied after moving to France from Lithuania in 1909. His initial ‘sketches’ were produced in clay, with further models becoming increasingly large and more detailed, before being cast in bronze. This bronze study was included in an exhibition held at the Tate Gallery, London, in 1986–7 that showcased fifty-seven of the sculptor’s plaster and terracotta studies and sketches, which had been gifted to the Tate Gallery in 1982 by the artist’s foundation.

Lipchitz had first received the commission for the public sculpture The Spirit of Enterprise in 1950 from the Fairmount Park Art Association (now the Association for Public Art) in Philadelphia. It constituted his first commission for a major public sculpture since arriving in America from Paris in 1941. The committee responsible for commissioning the sculpture requested that the work captured ‘The physical power of men, their imaginative dreams, the surge of their material expansion, the skill of craftsmanship, the power of labor’ (quoted in Taylor 2004, p.35). The finished sculpture stands in the central terrace of the Ellen Phillips Samuel Memorial Sculpture Garden in Philadelphia. Over four metres wide, this monumental allegorical figure was cast in twenty separate pieces.

In an earlier study the figure was shown carrying a dove and had his feet resting on an eagle, but the final version resembles more closely the study in bronze in the Tate collection, with the eagle positioned in front of the striding figure. In My Life in Sculpture, published in 1972, Lipchitz explained:

I wanted to combine the stories of the eagle with the dove of peace and the idea of progress. The committee refused this sketch for the curious reason that they thought Americans would object to the implication of someone stepping on the eagle. So I made a number of other sketches … and finally one in which the eagle is leading the figure. This piece, on which I worked until 1954, went through many transformations, since it was one of the most important commissions I had received until this date and since I now felt myself so completely an American that I was fascinated by the American theme.
(Lipchitz 1972, p.187.)

Lipchitz was particularly influenced by the way in which ‘ancient and primitive’ artists experimented with bronze, considering their handling of the material to be more imaginative than that of Renaissance or modern sculptors. In 1972, having worked with bronze for over sixty years, he explained his love of the material as follows:

I have seen and myself experimented with almost everything that can be done in bronze. Yet, when I say this, I realize that I am constantly finding new possibilities … bronze is my first and continuing love because it is so alive, so direct, so warm, and fluid. Each piece has my fingerprints all over it.
(Lipchitz in Jacques Lipchitz and H.H. Arnason, ‘Jacques Lipchitz: His Life in Sculpture’, Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, vol.30, no.6, June–July 1972, p.288.)

While Lipchitz first came to be known for his cubist work, such as Seated Man with Clarinet 1920 (Tate T03488), it was with the commissions such as that for The Spirit of Enterprise that the artist realised a desire to work on a monumental scale. He continued this with sculptures such as Prometheus Strangling the Vulture 1953 (Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia) and Government of the People 1967–70 (Municipal Services Building Plaza, Philadelphia).

Further reading
Jacques Lipchitz, My Life in Sculpture, London 1972.
David Fraser Jenkins and Derek Pullen, The Lipchitz Gift: Models for Sculpture, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1986.
Michael R. Taylor, Jacques Lipchitz and Philadelphia, Philadelphia Museum of Art Bulletin, vol.92, nos.391–2, Summer 2004.

Lucinda Towler
January 2017

Supported by the Terra Foundation for American Art.

Does this text contain inaccurate information or language that you feel we should improve or change? We would like to hear from you.

Display caption

In 1950 Lipchitz was commissioned to contribute a work to an open-air collection of sculpture commemorating American history at Fairmount Park in Philadelphia. This is a study for the five-metre-wide Spirit of Enterprise that resulted. It shows a striding pioneer, bearing a caduceus (the ancient symbol of commerce), being led by an eagle. The final monument, his first major American commission, was not inaugurated until 1960.

Gallery label, August 2004

Does this text contain inaccurate information or language that you feel we should improve or change? We would like to hear from you.

Catalogue entry

Jacques Lipchitz 1891-1973

T00320 Study for a Monument to 'The Spirit of Enterprise' 1953

Inscribed with thumb print and '2/7 J Lipchitz' on upper surface of base
Bronze, 31 5/8 x 28 1/2 x 12 5/8 (80 x 72.5 x 32)
Purchased from the artist through Fine Arts Associates, New York (Grant-in-Aid) 1959
Exh: Jacques Lipchitz, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, March-May 1958 (110); Rijksmuseum Kröller-Müller, Otterlo, May-July 1958 (110); Kunsthalle, Basle, August-September 1958 (99); Städtische Galerie, Munich, September-October 1958 (99); Museum am Ostwall, Dortmund, November-December 1958 (99, another work wrongly repr. as 99); Musée National d'Art Moderne, Paris, May-June 1959 (99); Tate Gallery, November-December 1959 (98) as 'Study for a Monument'
Lit: Irene Patai, Encounters: the Life of Jacques Lipchitz (New York 1961), pp.371-2, 380, 392-3; Jacques Lipchitz with H.H. Arnason, My Life in Sculpture (New York 1972), p.187, repr. fig.168
Repr: A.M. Hammacher, Jacques Lipchitz: his Sculpture (London 1961), pl.100

This is the final study for a monument to 'The Spirit of Enterprise' commissioned in 1950 for Fairmount Park in Philadelphia, which has an open-air collection of sculptures commemorating American history, including works by Saint-Gaudens, Rodin and Epstein, among others. Lipchitz's preliminary sketch showed a pioneer striding forward, carrying the dove of peace and a caduceus, the symbol of commerce, and apparently being guided by an eagle upon which one of his feet was resting. The committee accepted this concept but objected that the eagle was an important American symbol and must not be stepped on. Lipchitz therefore made a number of other sketches which were unfortunately destroyed on 5 January 1952, when his studio burnt down. After moving into his new studio in April 1953, he was delighted to find that it was possible after all to retain his original conception in slightly altered fashion. The eagle re-entered the composition, apparently leading the pioneer in his westward journey across the giant prairies.

The finished work, which follows this sketch quite closely in composition, is a huge bronze about three and a half metres high and nearly five metres wide on a base of black marble. It was placed in position in October 1960.

Published in:
Ronald Alley, Catalogue of the Tate Gallery's Collection of Modern Art other than Works by British Artists, Tate Gallery and Sotheby Parke-Bernet, London 1981, p.451, reproduced p.451

You might like

In the shop