Synchromy in Purple

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Synchromy in Purple

United States, late 1918-early 1919
Paintings
Oil on canvas
36 × 28 in. (91.44 × 71.12 cm)
Los Angeles County Fund (60.51)
Not currently on public view

Curator Notes

Macdonald-Wright created relatively few completely nonobjective synchromies, fearing that such work could deteriorate into "aimless ‘free’ decoration" ("The Artist Speaks: Stanton Macdonald-Wright," A...
Macdonald-Wright created relatively few completely nonobjective synchromies, fearing that such work could deteriorate into "aimless ‘free’ decoration" ("The Artist Speaks: Stanton Macdonald-Wright," Art in America 55 May 19671: 73). He preferred instead to base his color abstractions on the figure. He and Morgan Russell both greatly admired the muscular figures of Michelangelo (1475-1564) and used his powerful human forms in their paintings. Synchromy in Purple is one of many paintings in which the artist based the composition on a heroic figure. In Synchromy in Blue, 1916 (Weyhe Gallery, New York, as of 1978), the figure is presented in almost the same seated pose, its large, muscular body nearly bursting beyond the edges of the canvas. Synchromy in Purple is typical of the color abstractions Macdonald-Wright painted around 1916 and 1917. The artist purged his palette of blended tertiary colors, relying largely on the primary and secondary hues of the color spectrum-in this case using reds, blues, purples, and yellows-and often presenting them as complementary color chords. While Russell’s palette had been limited to these colors as early as 1913, Macdonald-Wright did not adopt such prismatic hues until later. Unlike Russell, Macdonald-Wright employed white extensively, thereby creating paintings with a softer, more crystalline luminosity. Moreover, he did not present the colors as fractured colored planes; here he sketched in the basic contours and even some of the details of the face with arcing blue lines and applied the brilliant hues in long strokes. The white and color passages function together to suggest light and dark and consequently a modeled human body. Despite Macdonald-Wright’s intentions, the color becomes almost a decorative overlay, and consequently the later synchromies such as this example appear less avant-garde. Macdonald-Wright’s paintings would always retain a certain luminous delicacy, and these qualities accorded well with his later fascination with oriental philosophy and art.
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About The Era

The beginning of every century inspires a general sentiment of endless possibilities, and the twentieth century was no exception....
The beginning of every century inspires a general sentiment of endless possibilities, and the twentieth century was no exception. A modern age marked by technological wonders had begun, and the United States was to be its focal point. Lewis Mumford, one of the country’s most brilliant thinkers, explained that, unlike Europe, “the New World expanded the human imagination.” Young American students still traveled to Europe, especially Paris, for their initiation to art, but the progressive new ideas of cubism, futurism, and surrealism that they imbibed only found their true home in the United States.
As demonstrated by the first generation of modernists in the circle of Alfred Stieglitz, American artists rarely abandoned referential ties to the physical world completely. The simplification of form, multiple perspectives, and ideas about the fourth dimension that radical proponents of cubism espoused would find their most compelling American expressions in the fishermen of Marsden Hartley, and the animal bones and skulls of Georgia O’Keeffe. To these artists, abstraction meant the synthesis of personal experience.
The introduction of psychological ideas, first in the form of Sigmund Freud’s discussion of the unconscious and later in the writings and art of the surrealists, found an enthusiastic audience in America. Such new concepts not only expanded ideas about the human mind but also encouraged the liberation of social conduct, in particular, sexual mores. Women increasingly became involved in creative aspects of the new modern age. In 1934 the Los Angeles artists Helen Lundeberg and Lorser Feitelson issued the only surrealist manifesto to appear in the United States, thereby demonstrating that in a relatively short time California had seriously challenged New York as the leader of the brave new world.
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Label

From the exhibition Stanton Macdonald-Wright and His Circle at LACMA January 29-May 28, 2003 ...
From the exhibition Stanton Macdonald-Wright and His Circle at LACMA January 29-May 28, 2003 A Synchromist painting is one in which forms are created with color scales—groups of individual colors that can be arranged in the same manner as individual notes on a musical scale, with intervals between the notes, or colors, and with musical keys, or color keys. Synchromy in Purple is painted in the scale of red-violet (purple), and the major chord of this scale is red-violet, yellow-orange, and green. Significantly, this chord appears on the face and on the figure’'s muscular legs. In his Treatise on Color, completed in 1924, Macdonald-Wright described the scale of red-violet as the calm before the storm and violet as the storm itself. Red-violet thus foretells strength and action.
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Bibliography

  • About the Era.
  • Hopkins, Henry T., ed. Illustrated Handbook of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.  West Germany:  Bruder Hartmann, 1965.
  • Stanton Macdonald-Wright: a retrospective exhibition, 1911-1970. Los Angeles: UCLA Art Galleries, 1970.
  • About the Era.
  • Hopkins, Henry T., ed. Illustrated Handbook of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.  West Germany:  Bruder Hartmann, 1965.
  • Stanton Macdonald-Wright: a retrospective exhibition, 1911-1970. Los Angeles: UCLA Art Galleries, 1970.
  • Cooper, Douglas.  The Cubist Epoch.  London:  Phaidon Press Limited, 1970.
  • Fort, Ilene Susan and Michael Quick.  American Art:  a Catalogue of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art Collection.  Los Angeles:  Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1991.
  • South, Will. Color, Myth, And Music:  Stanton Macdonald-Wright and Synchromism. Raleigh, North Carolina:  North Carolina Museum of Art, 2001.
  • Los Angeles County Museum of Art.  New York: Thames and Hudson, 2003.
  • LACMA: Obras Maestras 1750-1950: Pintura Estadounidense Del Museo De Arte Del Condado De Los Angeles. Mexico, D.F.: Museo Nacional de Arte, 2006.
  • Schrank, Sarah. Art and the City: Civic Imagination and Cultural Authority in Los Angeles. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009.
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