Our exhibition is organized around the theme of how American artists took different paths to create modern art between 1910 and 1950. We compare the artists who continued to evolve Impressionism in the Teens and Twenties with the artists influenced by new European styles promoted by Alfred Stieglitz and exhibited at the 1913 Armory Show in New York. The exhibition then considers the diverse styles of the 1930s and 1940s when Realist painters looked to past styles from both European and native sources. Our exhibition comes full circle as it considers how the nature-based abstraction of the Stieglitz Circle contributes to non-objective abstraction.
The Impressionist paintings we offer were selected for their advances in color and texture developed from Fauvism, as well as their daring compositions created through adaption of Cubist structural ideas. Morning Shadows, 1925 by George Luks (1867-1933) and Greetings from Skyscraperland, 1910 by Jane Peterson (1876-1965) demonstrate the use of these elements to move Impressionism forward.
For comparison these Impressionist paintings hang alongside works by artists that Alfred Stieglitz exhibited and admired. The Stieglitz Circle artists showed independence in their experimentation with the new European styles to create something uniquely American. In the watercolor Echo Lake District, Pennsylvania, 1916 by John Marin (1870-1953), the landscape of natural forms and the atmosphere of autumn are suggested through a radical new approach to structure, perspective, and color derived from the Post-Impressionists, Fauves, and Cubists, marking the beginning of American abstraction. Landscape, 1912 by Alfred Maurer (1868-1932) also exhibits the abstraction of natural forms as well as a new approach to color used to convey emotion.
In the late Teens through the Twenties American artists developed a style called Precisionism. This style expressed positive attitudes towards science, industry, and technology as new assets of American culture. An early example of Precisionism in our exhibition is Nockamixon, 1914 by the Stieglitz artist Oscar Bluemner (1867-1938). Nockamixon exhibits Precisionist austerity in its calculated reduction of a New Jersey industrial town scene into its geometric essence. Aspects of the Precisionist styles lasted into the 1930s and 1940s and merged with the American Scene, a new national art painted to tell the story of the many regions of America. For comparison with the Oscar Bluemner, we are hanging examples such as Wittenberg, New York, 1932 by Allen Gould (1908-1988), Edgewater, New Jersey, 1939 by Henry Schnakenberg (1892-1970), and Greenland Mountain and Sea, 1930 by Rockwell Kent (1882-1971) to demonstrate how the Precisionist style merged with the regionalism of the American Scene in the 1930s.
In the 1930s and 1940s additional sources of new ideas were provided by both Surrealism and historic forms of art: European Classicism, African Art, Folk Art, American Indian Art, Pre-Columbian Art, and early American Art. These art forms provided direct, simplified expressions of subject. Quotations from these sources were appropriated and transformed using Cubism to structure compositions and Surrealism to create emotion and narrative. Folk Art’s disregard of realistic color and rules of perspective and scale were seen as liberating resources to be used. In our exhibition, Ocean Dreams, c.1930 by Jan Matulka (1890-1972) is a fine example of classical iconography within a Cubist structure used to create a modern painting. Meanwhile in the paintings of Doris Lee (1905-1983) such as Nancy, Opening Night, 1937 and The Wall, one can see how she brings something of Colonial Portraiture into her creation of a modern picture.
Realist artists of the 1930s and 1940s intent on making social statements such as Reginald Marsh (1898-1954) and Rockwell Kent (1882-1971) still incorporated modern ideas of structure, color, and composition in their paintings, as seen in Marsh’s Washington Takes Union Square, 1933 and Kent’s At Peace, 1940. It may however be easier to identify this fusion of new ideas combined with the realism of Regionalist scenes of works and landscapes in such paintings as Field Workers, 1930 by Peppino Mangravite (1896-1977), The Outskirts of Town, Fairfield, Connecticut, 1938 by Georges Schreiber (1904-1977), or Gunnison Valley, Colorado, 1941 by Adolf Dehn (1895-1968).
In contrast to the art of the American Scene, our exhibition includes a selection of geometric and biomorphic abstraction from the 1930s and 1940s: Formal Arrangement, 1947 by Irene Rice Pereira (1902-1971); Black Rectangle, 1937 by Balcomb Greene (1904-1990); Blue Structure, 1945 by Ilya Bolotowsky (1907-1981); Purple Abstraction, 1939 by Esphyr Slobodkina (1908-2002); Ground Tension, 1948 by George L.K. Morris (1905-1975); and Le Soldat Inconnu, 1935 by Charles Green Shaw (1892-1974).
These abstract paintings bring the development of abstraction in America begun by Alfred Stieglitz to completion. Alfred Stieglitz provided the first forum for modern European art and promoted its American counterparts. Stieglitz’s influence lasted from 1905 when he opened his “291” Gallery at 291 Fifth Avenue (1905-1917), continued through the Twenties at his Intimate Gallery (1925-1929), and lasted through the 1940s at his American Place Gallery (1929-1946). As the political climate in Europe became progressively more antagonistic towards modernist art in the late 1930s, many European artists came to America bringing Surrealism and a focus on pure geometric abstraction with them. Their art and their presence as teachers added to the continued experimentation with realistically-derived abstraction which had begun with Stieglitz and the Armory Show exhibition of 1913. The flowering of America’s first group of purely abstract artists in the 1930s and 1940s came out of experimentation and sharing of European and American art ideas.
Ultimately modernism in America is the product of the appropriation of art styles and practices from international and national sources and the development of something new through experimentation, American culture, and individualism. We endeavor to exhibit this by presenting the diverse paths taken to create a modern painting by American artists between 1910 and 1950. The exhibition of forty-two paintings arranged to facilitate comparison will be on view from November 26th through February 2nd.