Toledo Cathedral

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Toledo Cathedral

United States, 1916
Oil on canvas
45 x 35 1/8 in. (114.34 x 89.22 cm)
Mr. and Mrs. William Preston Harrison Collection (33.11.3)
Not currently on public view

Curator Notes

In the summer of 1916 Halpert returned to New York after several months in Spain and Portugal with Robert Delaunay (1885-1941) and his wife Sonia Delaunay (1885-1979)....
In the summer of 1916 Halpert returned to New York after several months in Spain and Portugal with Robert Delaunay (1885-1941) and his wife Sonia Delaunay (1885-1979). This view of the interior of the Toledo Cathedral was no doubt painted during that trip. Halpert had originally met Robert Delaunay years before in Brittany, and they remained friends even after Halpert’s return to New York in 1911. Halpert acted as Delaunay’s American representative during the dispute over the installation of Delaunay’s City of Paris, 1910-12 (Musée national d’Art moderne, Centre national d’Art et de Culture Georges Pompidou, Paris) in the Armory Show. Toledo Cathedral was no doubt inspired by Robert Delaunay’s series on Saint Severin painted in 1909. Both artists shared a fascination with color and light and expressed this interest through the motif of a church interior. Halpert, however, did not become as abstract in his work as did Delaunay, who manipulated the architecture of the Saint Severin church so that its structure became a series of prismatically colored planes in flux. Instead, Halpert used the solid Gothic architectural structure as a frame contrasted to the light and color filling the nave. The sunlight is softened as it enters through the stained glass windows and forms an almost tangible, hazy atmosphere in the church. Color and light constitute the subject of the painting, as the stained-glass windows cause patterns of alternating colors -- violet, yellow, orange, red, and green -- to flicker across the surfaces of the stone columns and floor. The museum’s painting is very similar to another one of Toledo Cathedral done about the same time. The threestory elevation with clerestory depicted in the museum’s version appears to be of the Gothic cathedral’s transept near the crossing, while the other painting with its two-story elevation is of the nave. Although there are more stained glass windows in the cathedral’s nave, both of Halpert’s interpretations are equally concerned with light and color. The differences between the two versions are subtle. In the museum’s painting Halpert positioned himself almost directly in front of the wall of glass and stone rather than on a slightly oblique angle as in the other version. Consequently the piers and arches appear less as a series of abstract, arcing lines and more as clearly defined archways. Both paintings have small figures, differing only in number and placement. According to photographs of the painting published when it was first exhibited in the autumn of 1916, the cathedral interior originally was shown with a plain stone floor. Sometime thereafter, for reasons unknown, Halpert changed the floor and some minor architectural details, such as the balustrade in the far-right triforium window. William Preston Harrison had wanted to purchase a major work by Halpert since 1916, the year of this painting. He was not able to obtain one until 1933, when he traded a dealer paintings by WALTER UFER, Grace Ravlin (born 1885), and WILLIAM WENDT for this painting.

About The Era

After the centennial of 1876 the foremost place for American artists to show was no longer New York but Paris....
After the centennial of 1876 the foremost place for American artists to show was no longer New York but Paris. By the late nineteenth century the Paris Salon was the most important exhibition space in the Western world. Artists from many nations would submit their best works to its annual exhibition. The honor of being accepted presaged an artist’s future success. Thousands of paintings, sculptures, and works on paper were presented at each Salon; the exhibition halls were so crowded that paintings were hung to the ceiling with sculptures scattered about. To be hung “on the line” (at eye level) meant a work of art ranked among the best in the show. Since a painting might be skied (hung near the ceiling), many artists painted on a large scale to ensure that their work could be seen no matter where it was placed.
Contrary to earlier periods, American painting in the late 1800s was no longer dominated by a single aesthetic. Munich-school paintings—narrative scenes, often based on literature or history and painted in a dark palette—as well as small figure paintings in the realist tradition were popular in both France and the United States. Large portraits represent the academic style that dominated official taste during this era. Bright, sun-drenched scenes by a more progressive group of artists, the impressionists are diametrically opposite in color, mood, and concept to muted tonalist and symbolist works. Whereas the impressionists celebrated contemporary life with all its transformations, the tonalists and symbolists created hazily illuminated, dreamlike imagery.
Sculptures range from academic examples of idealized mythological imagery to expressions of the newer interest in the emotive potential of the human form. Equestrian bronzes by Frederic Remington demonstrate that at the turn of the century there was a continuing enthusiasm for heroic depictions of the West despite the increased internationalism of American taste.


  • About the Era.
  • Fort, Ilene Susan and Michael Quick.  American Art:  a Catalogue of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art Collection.  Los Angeles:  Museum Associates, 1991.
  • Tepfer, Diane.  Samuel Halpert: Art and Life, 1884-1930.  Millennium Partners, Inc., 2001.