Stanton Macdonald-Wright and Brash, Bold Synchromism
Sho Kannon (1961-62), Stanton Macdonald-Wright, Modern Art and Design Auction, October 12, 2014
Painter Stanton Macdonald-Wright (1890-1973) was a pioneer of American abstract art. As a young artist in Paris, just prior to the outbreak of the First World War, Macdonald-Wright and another young American expatriate, Morgan Russell, developed a theory of painting they called Synchromism, meaning “with color.” LAMA is pleased to present two works by Macdonald-Wright, Sho Kannon (1961-62) and Yin Synchromy (1925), from the first American avant-garde art movement to capture the attention of an international audience.
Their core principle behind Synchromism was that colors, deployed in careful relation to one another, could elicit profound, specific emotional and psychological reactions. The use of color would be the guiding force of Macdonald-Wright’s long artistic career. At 19, Macdonald-Wright set off for Paris, where he took courses at the École des Beaux-Arts and other institutions while visiting the Louvre almost daily. He was strongly influenced by the Cubist technique, and by the reverberant color in the work of Henri Matisse and, especially, Paul Cézanne. While taking classes in modern color theory, Macdonald-Wright met Russell. They became “convinced that color and sound were equivalent phenomena and that one could orchestrate the colors of a painting the way a composer arranges notes and chords in music.” Macdonald-Wright and Russell debuted their Synchromist works at galleries in Munich and Paris in 1913. The shows were well-attended, but the reaction was often harsh—no doubt in large part because of Macdonald-Wright and Russell’s brash manifestos that declared Synchromism superior to all other forms of painting. The war sent Macdonald-Wright back to America. His work was prominently shown in New York galleries—including Alfred Stieglitz’s famed 291—but the mood of the day was too somber for Synchromism’s bright hues.
Macdonald-Wright moved back to his native California in 1919, and soon established himself as the dean of modern art on the West Coast. He became director of the Art Students League of Los Angeles in the 1920s; during the Depression he headed the area’s Federal Art Project. Macdonald-Wright moved away from pure abstraction and towards figurative painting. Captivated by Asian art—he studied Chinese languages and artistic symbolism, and taught Asian philosophy and art history at UCLA for a decade beginning in 1942—he began to incorporate Asian themes and motifs in his paintings. Yin Synchromy (1925) is a classic example from Macdonald-Wright’s early mature period. Rendering in vibrant, carefully-arrayed colors, the painting depicts a reclining female nude (the yin force) juxtaposed with a tiger, representing the male yang. Following pilgrimages to Japan, Macdonald-Wright returned to abstraction and Synchromism in the 1950s. Many of his works, such as Sho Kannon (1961-1962), demonstrate an approach that synthesizes Cubist technique and a representational style, employing a figurative armature as the heart of the painting. Macdonald-Wright regained a place in discussions of American modern art through late-life retrospectives, in particular a 1970 exhibit at the UCLA Art Galleries. Macdonald-Wright and Synchromism have since been featured in numerous exhibitions at institutions ranging from the Centre Pompidou to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. His work is included in the permanent collections of many museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Brooklyn Museum, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.
Will South, ed., Color, Myth, and Music: Stanton Macdonald-Wright and Synchromism, Raleigh, N.C., North Carolina Museum of Art, 2001.
“Stanton Macdonald-Wright: Biography.” LACMA Collections. Los Angeles County Museum of Art, n.d. Web. 27 Aug. 2014.
“Stanton Macdonald-Wright, Arm Organization.” Collections, Arts of North America. Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, n.d. Web. 27 Aug. 2014.
Oil on canvas
Signed, dated, titled, and inscribed verso “Yin Synchromy/California/1925/S. Macdonald-Wright” verso; retains North Carolina Museum of Art exhibition label verso
Canvas: 24″ x 29.5″;
Frame: 26.5″ x 32.5″
Provenance: Private Collection, Pacific Palisades, California (acquired directly from the artist, 1968)
Exhibited: “Sixth Exhibition of Painters and Sculptors of Southern California,” Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, April 3-30, 1925; “The Modern Art Workers,” Hollywood Library Art Gallery, Hollywood, October, 1925; “A Retrospective Showing of the Work of Stanton Macdonald-Wright,” Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, January 19-February 19, 1956; “The Art of Stanton Macdonald-Wright,” National Collection of Fine Arts, Washington, DC, May 4-June 18, 1967; “Stanton Macdonald-Wright: A Retrospective Exhibition, 1911-1970, UCLA Art Galleries/Grunwald Graphic Arts Foundation, Los Angeles, November 16-December 20, 1970; “Color, Myth and Music: Stanton Macdonald-Wright and Synchromism,” North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh, March 4-July 3, 2001
Illustrated: Color, Myth and Music: Stanton Macdonald-Wright and Synchromism.
Exhibition Catalogue. Raleigh: North Carolina Museum of Art, 2001, #28.
Literature: The Art of Stanton Macdonald-Wright. Exhibition Catalogue. Washington, DC: National Collection of Fine Arts, 1967. #28; Stanton Macdonald-Wright: A Retrospective Exhibition, 1911-1970. Exhibition Catalogue. Los Angeles: UCLA Art Galleries/Grunwald Graphic Arts Foundation, 1970. #16.
Estimate: $25,000 – $35,000
Oil on canvas
Signed lower right; signed, titled, and dated verso
Canvas: 60″ x 44″ Frame: 60.75″ x 44.75″
Exhibited: “Stanton Macdonald-Wright: A Retrospective Exhibition, 1911-1970,” UCLA Art Galleries, Los Angeles, November 16-December 20, 1970
Illustrated: Stanton Macdonald-Wright: A Retrospective Exhibition, 1911-1970. Exhibition Catalogue. Los Angeles: UCLA Art Galleries/Grunwald Graphics Art Foundation, 1970. #56.
Estimate: $40,000 – $60,000