When Lithuanian-born sculptor Jacques Lipchitz emigrated to Paris in 1909, his friendship with the Spanish artists Juan Gris and Pablo Picasso led him to explore Cubism in his sculptures. By the late 1920s, however, Lipchitz moved from these figures made of flat planes and angular masses to a looser style based on natural forms, and he began to explore themes and ideas in his sculptures rather than purely formal relationships. The theme of Prometheus emerged as early as 1933 in his work, as a symbol of human progress and determination and a parable for the triumph of democracy over fascism. In the Greek legend, Prometheus stole fire from the gods and bestowed it as a gift on humankind. This so enraged the god Zeus that he had Prometheus chained to a rocky mountainside, to be tortured by a vulture for all eternity. In Lipchitz’s sculptural version of the story, however, Prometheus triumphs over his fate: freed from his chains, he strangles the bird with one hand as he grips the claws in the other. The original version of Prometheus Strangling the Vulture was a 30-foot work cast in plaster for the 1937 International Exhibition in Paris. After the artist resettled in America, the Brazilian government commissioned him to sculpt another Prometheus for the Ministry of Education and Health building in Rio de Janeiro. The Walker sculpture is based on this 1944 version, which was recast in bronze in 1953.
© 1998 Walker Art Center