• Christies auction house James Christie logo

    Sale 2058

    Important American Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture

    4 December 2008, New York, Rockefeller Plaza

  • Lot 2

    George Copeland Ault (1891-1948)

    Autumn in the Bronx

    Price Realised  

    George Copeland Ault (1891-1948)
    Autumn in the Bronx
    signed and dated 'G.C.Ault '36' (lower right)--signed and dated again and inscribed with title (on a label affixed to the stretcher)
    oil on canvas
    24 x 18 in. (61 x 45.7 cm.)


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    Throughout George Ault's career, the artist captured the quiet beauty of America's natural and man-made forms in a disquieting manner, a result of a turbulent personal life. Through his use of solid colors, simplified forms and extreme angles, Autumn in the Bronx from 1936 is a fully developed painting that encapsulates Ault's distinctive and personalized Precisionist style.

    Most frequently associated with Precisionist artists Charles Sheeler and Ralston Crawford, Ault was a modest, unassuming painter, whose smooth-surfaced images incorporate ideas from Cubism, Surrealism, and American Folk Art. Ault began to cultivate his unique painting style around 1920, settling on architectural, urban themes and began to deliberately employ flat shapes, strong geometric patterns and unusual perspectives, in a manner dissimilar to his Precisionist counterparts: "Although Ault is often grouped with Precisionists Ralston Crawford and Charles Sheeler, he did not idealize modern life as they generally did. Rather, his urban landscapes, filled with a sense of disquiet and psychic distress, echo both Giorgio de Chirico, the Italian Surrealist, and Albert Pinkham Ryder, the American romantic visionary." (G. Adams, "George Ault" in I.S. Sweetkind, ed., Master Paintings from the Butler Institute of American Art, New York, 1994, p. 232)

    In the present work, Autumn in the Bronx, Ault reduces the scene to its primary elements, presenting only the simple forms of which it is composed and omitting all unessential detail. The painting portrays a nondescript street in the Bronx, where the artist lived for a period of time. The inherently geometric forms of the architecture are clearly drawn and the buildings are positioned on a diagonal line, receding to the far right. The house, although parallel to the garage, stands slightly askew, creating a sense of tension between the two buildings. This street in the Bronx seems dilapidated and uninhabited. The only signs of life are the large leafy tree along the right edge of the work that encompasses a large portion of the sky and a black cat that stands motionless next to the fence in the foreground.

    In a 1988 review of a George Ault retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art, art critic Roberta Smith praises Ault's talent, and his success as an artist: "Ault's work offers telling, even moving proof of how little it takes for an artist to strike us as original and to hold our attention...One of Ault's primary subjects was the lonely everyday beauty of the world, caught in a moment of absolute stillness and ever so slightly abstracted. To capture this, he tried his hand at a number of realistic and quasi-realistic styles, not only Precisionism, but Surrealism and more traditional styles as well. Ault was relatively untouched by the storms of modernism. His paintings were almost invariably based on what he saw: the street, rooftop or harbor views of New York City, and the houses, barns and fields of Woodstock, where he spent the last decade of his life in growing poverty and isolation...But Ault's firm, unflamboyant way with a brush, his feeling for a building's austere, carefully dovetailed planes and, above all, his love of light as painting's form-giving, mood-setting force, sustained him at nearly every turn, in any direction he chose to move...He brought to his various scenes an idiosyncratic poetry and a sadness that was neither hidden nor indulged, but kept at an arm's length with a sense of dignity that, strangely enough, could almost be celebratory. In Ault's paintings, one feels that he loved life, even if life did not particularly love him." ("George Ault's Sad, Everyday Beauty in Stillness," The New York Times, April 29, 1988) With a masterful combination of color and form, Autumn in the Bronx exemplifies the most fascinating qualities of Ault's oeuvre.

    Provenance

    Private collection, Michigan.