Pierre Levai has confirmed the authenticity of this sculpture.
Writing in his memoirs, Jacques Lipchitz looked back on his cubist sculptures of the late 1910s: "it seems to me now that I was still looking for a personal vocabulary. I was still engaged in finding the grammar, the syntax of sculpture most congenial to me. Beginning in an academic tradition, my emphasis was obviously on subject matter composed traditionally. With my explorations of cubism I was, like the cubist painters before me, first attempting, by a concentration on the formal elements, to subordinate the subject to the plastic forms and then gradually to bring the center back together again. But, whereas the cubist painters had many precedents and prototypes in the paintings of Céanne, Seurat, and the other postimpressionists, I had virtually no sculptural models on which to build. I had to find my vocabulary by myself, and thus the process was long and painful" (in My Life in Sculpture, with H.H. Arnason, New York, 1972, p. 38).
Conceived in 1919, Arlequin à la clarinette reflects Lipchitz's ultimate mastery of his "personal vocabulary" at the end of the great decade of Cubism. Commedia dell'Arte figures lifted from rococo painting and everyday musical instruments were favorite subjects among the cubists, and here Lipchitz has combined both motifs in the person of a sideshow entertainer dressed as harlequin and playing the clarinet, which had become the solo instrument of choice among jazz and ragtime musicians. Lipchitz was especially drawn to this idea, and created no fewer than fifteen versions in bronze and stone, as recorded in Alan Wilkinson's catalogue, during 1919-1920 (see lot __). Indeed, taking this subject alone, and the two versions included in this catalogue, one can trace the transition in Lipchitz's work from a complexly facetted, spiraling and asymmetrical stylization of cubist geometry (as seen here), to the more frontal, simplified and block-like forms present in the later versions of this subject (see lot ___), as the sculptor classicized his approach to cubist form in the early 1920s.
Lipchitz initially modeled his cubist sculptures in plaster, and then worked in carved stone and bronze as he became able to afford these materials while working under contract with the dealer Léonce Rosenberg in 1916-1920. A.M. Hammacher has written:
"During this time he also became aware of his relation as sculptor to his material. He learned not only modeling in clay but also stonecarving, and by engrossing himself in bronze casting he knew what was technically possible in that medium. His program of revitalizing sculpture included, among other things, carving the work himself as a protest against the tendency to let assistants model forms, a tendency that was enfeebling because sculpture no longer arose from meeting the resistance and character of wood and stone. And yet Lipchitz had the courage to stand by his own viewpoint with an outspoken preference for bronze... He had worked in wood and stone, but he employed assistants when Léonce Rosenberg improved his chances with a contract in 1916. After certain experiences he broke the contract four years later and bought himself free. In the meantime the dislocation of an arm caused him to limit the amount of carving he did himself. This was not the only reason, however; he was not the sort of sculptor who derives form from the stone or block of wood itself. His form assumed a shape that arose from tensions in his inner self. By preference, this self-realization he sought in the rich potentialities of bronzecasting, which he left only in part to others and which he knew so well that he conceived his work in terms of that technique. Thus the casting was not for him a translation by somebody else from hand-modeled clay, according to the practice of the nineteenth century. The clay model in his hands was directed entirely toward the consummation in metal" (in Jacques Lipchitz: His Sculpture, New York, Abrams, 1960, pp. 36 and 41).