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Jacques Lipchitz (Portrait of a Young Man)

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Jacques Lipchitz (Portrait of a Young Man)

Diego Rivera

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Paris 1914

Oil on canvas,

25 5/8 x 21 5/8″ (65.1 x 54.9 cm).

Museum of Modern Art: New York, NY

Jacque Lipchitz (Portrait of a Young Man), by renown Mexican muralist, Diego Rivera is a portrait of his sculptor friend, Jacques Lipchitz, done during the ten years Rivera lived in Paris. Rivera was best known as a muralist prior to his stay in France, but after meeting Pablo Picasso, one of the developers of the cubist style, he became increasingly involved in cubism.

The portrait of Jacques Lipchitz, painted in oil on canvas in 1914, is an example of Rivera’s many cubist portraits completed during this period. It is signed in the lower right corner by the artist. The painting was donated to the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, where it is currently housed.[1]

The portrait of Jacques Lipchitz, at 25 5/8 inches tall and 21 5/8 inches wide is not an extremely large piece of work but its impact is much greater than its physical size.

Rivera’s personal interpretation of cubism is distinctive in his use of bright colors, larger surfaces and intense textures, evident in this portrait. While many cubists were focusing on flattening the plane of the picture and using monochromatic colors, Rivera used cubist techniques to make his work multi-dimensional and used color to describe strong emotion, while also connecting to his Mexican heritage. Serapes, the woven blankets worn by Mexican peasants, became a hallmark of Rivera’s cubist paintings and can be seen in his portrait of Jacques Lipchitz, cloaking his Lithuanian friend in his own Mexican identity.

[2] While many cubist portraits such as Picasso’s Portrait of Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler (fig 1) broke down the image into small, difficult to recognize pieces with the reconstruction barely identifiable, Rivera chose to reconstruct Jacques Lipchitz’s face and head area in a way that adds depth and interest. Rivera depicted Lipchitz as deep in thought through the placement of his hands and his use of multi- dimensions and prominent, deeper colors in his head area, adds interest and even area to his head, giving the impression of Lipchitz having many thoughts. The portrait also has two mouths, one appears outgoing and verbose and the other, quiet and thoughtful. It is obvious that Rivera considered Lipchitz an intelligent and multi-faceted man.[3]

Cubism was an art movement pioneered by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque.  The first branch of cubism developed between 1908 and 1911 was called Analytic Cubism. Analytic cubism analyzed natural forms, reducing them to basic shapes, like cylinders, cones and spheres in two-dimensions. There was little color used except for monochromatic blues, greys and browns. Popular cubist motifs include liquer bottles, musical instruments and painted wood grain. Synthetic Cubism took the movement even further through the use of collage and mixed media. Picasso and Braque participated in friendly competition as they experimented and stretched the boundaries of the cubist movement, which began in 1912 and remained vital until around 1919, when the Surrealist movement gained popularity.[4] Diego Rivera, a long time admirer of Picasso’s work, stepped into the cubist movement in 1913 when it was already well established, adding his own techniques and style.[5]

Portraiture was a primary theme in cubist art, and as in Rivera’s portrait of Jacques Lipchitz, often displayed the multifaceted persona of man. John Klein states in the introduction to his book, Matisse Portraits, that a portrait is a transaction between the subjective artist and the sitter.[6] He describes the relationship between them as a mutual search for identity of the subject. The period in history during the cubist movement was one of upheaval. World War I brought a variety of new experiences and realizations of individual frailty and regret in the wake of great nationalism and expectations of a glowing victory. People who defined themselves by one set of standards were finding themselves questioning who they were. Shearer West  states in his book “Portraiture” that a portrait not only involves the imagination and perception of the artist, but it also describes the “perceived social role of the sitter and the qualities of the sitter that raise him or her above the occasion of the moment.”[7]  Portraiture then, was perhaps a means to aid in the discovery of individual identity; a way of seeing oneself in a different light, as others viewed you, during a time of external upheaval. To be successful, a portrait artist must help the sitter to define himself through the depiction of those outstanding and individualistic qualities that he possesses. He must be sensitive to emotion and able to capture the uniqueness of his subject. Richard Brilliant points out that a portrait artist must have “artistic ingenuity and empathetic insight” to be successful. Diego Rivera had the qualities for success. His portraits, whether cubist or impressionistic, illustrate complex emotion and the individuality of his subjects and are an excellent example of successful portraiture.[8]

Born in Guanajuato, Mexico on December 8, 1886, Diego Rivera was a twin, but his brother died at the age of eighteen months. Diego Rivera’s parents recognized his artistic ability at a young age. He was encouraged to draw and paint from before the age of two. His father even lined one room of the house in canvas so Diego could practice his art on the walls. He was enrolled in local art courses at nine and was admitted to the Academia de S Carlos in Mexico City at eleven. He was awarded a scholarship at fifteen and a government pension at eighteen. At nineteen he was awarded a travel grant to Europe, and in 1907 he went to Spain, settling in Paris two years later. In November 1910 he returned to Mexico for an exhibition of his work at the Academia, which was part of the Mexican Centennial of Independence celebrations. The Mexican Revolution began the day the exhibition opened, and Rivera returned to Paris early in 1911, remaining there until 1919.[9]

Rivera developed into an accomplished painter during his years in Europe. He studied with Eduardo Chicharro in Madrid where much of his work shows the influence of El Greco and his contact with Spanish modernist circles.[10] His contact with the many artists living in Paris exposed him to a wide variety of different artistic styles and schools of thought. In 1911, he moved into La Ruche, an artist community in Montparnasse and developed friendships with several artists, including Amedeo Modigliani and Pablo Picasso.  He enthusiastically embraced the cubist movement and was very prolific in cubist studies. In 1917 he became  inspired by Paul Cézanne’s paintings and shifted toward Post-Impressionism with simple forms and large patches of vivid colors.[11]

In 1920 Rivera left France at the urging of the French Ambassador, and traveled through Italy studying Renaissance frescoes. He was being encouraged to return to Mexico and become an active part of the revolution through a government program using murals as a proletarian art form. He returned to Mexico in 1921 and began his first significant mural in January 1922. Rivera painted Creation in the Bolívar Auditorium of the National Preparatory School in Mexico City with a pistol by his side, to guard against right-wing students. His murals, subsequently painted in fresco only, dealt with Mexican society and often reflected the country’s 1910 Revolution. Rivera painted many frescoes throughout his career including those in the Auditorium of the National Agricultural School at Chapingo. Some critics consider these to be his finest work. Also in this building is the mural “Biological Evolution and Social Evolution,” a philosophically symbolic synthesis in which the female nude figures are considered among the most impressive in modern art. [12] [13]

Rivera painted over a two hundred murals in five countries, most of them in Mexico. The Mexican mural movement is one of the greatest artistic achievements of the twentieth century. The themes of the murals were of Mexican society and revolution and often told historical stories that began with an Aztec past, leading to the glorious revolutionary present. This was the first time that the story was told this way, and the past was interpreted in light of modern politics. The murals reflected artistic influences that Rivera had encountered in Europe, such as surrealism and cubism. The mural paintings were created in the fresco technique of water color on wet plaster and were done in harmony with the surrounding architecture and usually in bright, bold colors with strong imagery.[14] The images Rivera created in his Mexican murals were what most Americans imagine when they close their eyes and think of Mexico.

Rivera’s political life is of almost as much interest as his artwork. He was a lifelong radical atheist and revolutionary Marxist, and this brought him much difficulty. In February, 1929, when Stalin gained the upper hand in the struggle against Trotsky, he banished him from Soviet territory. Rivera was a supporter of Trotsky. Trotsky went from Turkey to France to Norway, but Soviet pressure pushed him from each place. At Rivera’s request, President Lázaro Cárdenas agreed to give Trotsky asylum. He moved into Rivera’s home, the Blue House in January of 1937 and lived with him for the next two years.[15] In February 1938 Rivera met André Breton, a French Surrealist poet. Together, they printed a call to create a federation to resist Stalinist cultural domination in the arts in the Partisan Review, a left-wing anti-Stalinist New York literary magazine. Then, Rivera and Trotsky had a falling out in 1940. Much of President Cárdenas’s following were strongly Stalinists and Rivera attacked him, saying he was “an accomplice of the Stalinists”, and decided to support a very right wing candidate who was backed by Mexico’s neo-Nazi movement. Trotsky and Rivera parted ways over politics, with Trotsky describing Rivera as “a genius whose political blunderings could cast no shadow either on his art or on his personal integrity.” After Trotsky was assassinated in 1940, Rivera reverted back to Stalinism.[16]

            Rivera continued his involvement with the Mexican Communist Party and was often at the forefront of subversive action. In 1947, Rivera shook up the religious community when he included the phrase “God does not exist!” in one of his murals. A group of students burst into the Del Prado hotel, where the mural hung, to carve out “does not exist!” In response, Rivera led a group of one hundred left-wing artists and intellectuals into the hotel. Amid shouts of “Death to imperialism!,” the words were carved back in.[17]

In 1930, Rivera accepted an invitation to paint a mural in San Francisco, CA. His “Making of a Fresco” at the San Francisco Art Institute got him five more commissions in the United States, including his “Detroit Industry” Frescoes in the garden court of the Detroit Institute of Arts, often considered his most important mural outside Mexico. In 1933 he began Man at the Crossroads for the RCA building in the Rockefeller Center in New York, but was prevented from finishing the mural because it contained a portrait of Lenin which he refused to remove. He lost several anticipated commissions due to this scandal. Rivera then painted a series of 21 overtly political panels called Portrait of America for the anti-Stalinist New Workers School in New York. [18]

Rivera’s romantic life was nearly as tumultuous as his political life. In 1909 he met a young Russian painter by the name of Angelina Belhoff. She became his common law wife for the next ten years. It was Rivera’s relationship with Bluff, and her involvement with a circle of Russian anarchists, that significantly developed the artist’s political and national consciousness. Belhoff gave birth to Rivera’s only son, Diego, in 1916. He died of influenza when he was two.[19]  In 1919 his daughter Marika was born to Marevna Vorobieva, although he was still with Angeline. He left Angeline when he decided to go back to Mexico in 1920. In 1922, he married Guadalupe Marin, whom he had met while on travels in Mexico to study the various landscapes and history and they had two daughters. They divorced in 1927. In 1928, he met Frida Kahlo, at a weekly party. He and Kahlo married in 1929. Their marriage often was tumultuous. Both Kahlo and Rivera had fiery temperaments and they both had numerous extramarital affairs.Kahlo was openly bisexual and had affairs with both men and women. Rivera knew of and tolerated her relationships with women, but her relationships with men made him jealous. Kahlo became outraged when she learned that Rivera had an affair with her younger sister, Cristina and she left him. The couple eventually divorced, but remarried in 1940. Their second marriage was as turbulent as the first. Their living quarters often were separate. Rivera appeared to have felt a great loss in July of 1954 when his wife Frida Kahlo died, but one year later he married Emma Hurtado, his dealer since 1946. Diego Rivera died on November 24, 1957 in Mexico City, two weeks before his seventy-second birthday.[20] (Favela, 1986).

Although Diego Rivera’s most heralded work is his murals,  many of his smaller paintings, including Jacques Lipchitz: Portrait of a Young Man,  better reveal the versatility and emotional state of Rivera. Many were produced during a period that coincided with both the Mexican Revolution and World War I, reflecting Rivera’s expatriate role, explore issues of national identity, and carry nationalistic overtones. Throughout Rivera’s exploration of many artistic styles, media and subjects, his work always stimulated sentiment and made an impact on the societal status quo, encouraging its viewers to consider alternative views of a prior bias. Rivera lived boldly, and exhibited this boldness in each piece of work he did. Diego Rivera was easily one of the most influential artists of the twentieth century.



[1]Ramon Favela, Diego Rivera: A Retrospective (Detroit Institute of the Arts, 1986) 86-91.

[2] Andrea Kettenmann, Diego Rivera 1886-1957 (Benedikt Taschen Verlag. 2000) 23-54.
[3]Bertram David Wolfe; Diego Rivera. Fabulous Life of Diego Rivera (Rowman and Littlefield, NY. 2000) 146-152.
[4]Ramon Favela, 201.

[5] Wolfe, 63-89.
[6] John Klein, Matisse Portraits. (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2001) 89-90.
[7] Shearer West, Portraiture (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2004) 121.

[8]Richard Brilliant. Portraiture (London: Reaktion Books, 1991) 62.

[9] Kettermann, 234.

[10]Patrick  Marnham. Dreaming with His Eyes Open: A life of Diego Rivera (New York, NY. 1999)23-36.

[11]Pete Hamill, Diego Rivera. (Harry N Abrams, New York. 2002) 126.

[12] Wolfe, 101.

[13] Favela, 220.

[14] Marnham, 227.

[15]Marnham, 190

[16]Favela, 131.

[17] Marnham, 273-275.

[18] Marnham, 291.

[19]Wolfe, 37.

[20] Wolfe, 171.


Brilliant, Richard. Portraiture. London: Reaktion Books, 1991

Catlin, S.L., Political Iconography in the Diego Rivera Frescoes at Cuernavaca, Mexico, Art and Architecture in the Service of Politics, ed. H. A. Millon and L. Nochlin (Cambridge, MA, 1978), pp. 439–49

Favela, Ramon, Diego Rivera: The Cubist Years. Phoenix Art Museum, Phoenix, AZ. 1984.

Favela, Ramon, Diego Rivera: A Retrospective. Detroit Institute of the Arts, Detroit, MI. 1986.

Hamill, Pete, Diego Rivera. Harry N Abrams, New York. 2002.

Kettenmann, Andrea, Diego Rivera: 1886-1957. Benedikt Taschen Verlag. 2000.

Klein, John. Matisse Portraits. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2001.
Indych-Lopez, Anna. Mexican Muralism Without Walls: The Critical Reception of Portable Work by Orozco, Rivera and, Siqueiros in the United States, 1927-1940. Ph.D. Dissertation: Institute of Fine Arts, NYU, 2003.

Marnham, Patrick. Dreaming with his Eyes Open: alive of Diego Rivera.  New York, NY. 1999.

West, Shearer. Portraiture. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.

 Wolfe, Bertram David; Rivera, Diego. Fabulous Life of Diego Rivera. Rowman and Littlefield, NY. 2000.

Cite this Jacques Lipchitz (Portrait of a Young Man)

Jacques Lipchitz (Portrait of a Young Man). (2016, Oct 30). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/jacques-lipchitz-portrait-of-a-young-man/

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