Alice Halicka was born into a family of doctors and grew up in Vienna and Krakow. She trained at Simon Hollósy’s school in Munich then went to Paris in 1912 and enrolled at Académie Ranson. In 1913 she married her fellow countryman the painter Louis Marcoussis (1878-1941), who introduced her to the Cubist circle, notably Guillaume Apollinaire, Max Jacob and Juan Gris. She showed at the Salon des Indépendants in 1913. When Marcoussis was mobilised, she moved to Normandy, where she worked intensely in the Cubist style she later abandoned. In her memoirs she recalls that Marcousis dissuaded her from continuing in this vein, saying that “one Cubist in the family is enough”.
From the 1920s, she experimented with reliefs combining painting, collage and assemblages of fabrics, buttons, wire and feathers. In 1924 she stayed in Krakow, where her visit to the Jewish district of Kazimierz inspired a series of paintings and her illustrations for Children of the Ghetto by Israel Zangwill (1884-1975). She worked in the fashion and the decorative arts, producing textile and wallpaper designs for Dumas, Bianchini and Rodier and, from 1935 to 1938, advertising images for Helena Rubinstein in the United States.
Alice Halicka showed regularly at the Salon d’Automne, the Salon des Tuileries and the Surindépendants, and also in numerous group exhibitions in internationally renowned galleries: Berthe Weill, Paris (1921), Mansard Gallery, London (1922), Bernheim Jeune, Paris (1923), Kunsthaus, Zurich (1926), George Petit, Paris (1930), René Gimpel, New York (1936), Wildenstein, Paris (1947) and Colette Allendy, Paris (1948).
In this picture she was experimenting with the principles of Cubism pioneered by Braque and Picasso: absence of perspective, abandonment of a single point of view, fragmentation of the subject, geometricisation of forms and a palette reduced to browns and greys. A musical instrument, probably a violin, on a pedestal table is depicted from different angles. The resulting fragmentation of the image evokes the vibrations of music. Alice Halicka pursued this experimentation throughout the First World War, then developed a more personal, figurative style.
This picture was bequeathed to the mahJ by David and Sura Smolas, along with five other works from their major modern art collection. Having attentively observed the museum’s creation, they wanted to reinforce the presence of modern art in the permanent collection.