• Latin American Sale auction at Christies

    Sale 2563

    Latin American Sale

    22 - 23 May 2012, New York, Rockefeller Plaza

  • Lot 16

    Joaquín Torres-García (Uruguayan 1874-1949)

    Grafismo universal sobre fondo gris

    Price Realised  


    Joaquín Torres-García (Uruguayan 1874-1949)
    Grafismo universal sobre fondo gris
    signed 'J.TG' (center left) and dated 'MCMXXXVII' (upper right quadrant)
    tempera on board laid on panel
    39 5/8 x 31 5/8 in. (100.6 x 80.3 cm.)
    Painted in 1937.

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    We are grateful to Mrs. Cecilia de Torres for her assistance in cataloguing this work.
    This work is sold with a certificate of authenticity from Galerie Jan Krugier, Ditesheim and Cie, signed by François Ditesheim and dated 15 July 1999; as well as a certificate of authenticity signed by Alejandra Torres.

    Torres-García returned to Montevideo in 1934, over forty years after embarking on a trans-Atlantic journey that stretched from Barcelona to Paris and New York. Celebrated as a teacher, he worked tirelessly to catalyze the development of modern art throughout Latin America, advocating for a hemispheric approach to the visual arts grounded in the recuperation of a shared, pre-Hispanic past. Indeed, his synthesis of archetypal motifs and ancient hieroglyphs with the formal values of modernism aspired toward what he described as the "construction of an entire world: popular art in which the greatest and highest, and the most universal, may be expressed in the simplest, and therefore most appropriate, language."[1] The paintings from this final Montevidean period represent the culmination of Torres-García's career, in which he deftly integrated the formal precepts of the modernist grid and the symbolic iconography of the ancient Americas.

    One of Torres-García's first undertakings upon his return to Montevideo was the construction of Cosmic Monument, a free-standing stone wall intended as a public manifestation of his aesthetic ideals. "His drawings and paintings of 1935-38 are related to this project," Margit Rowell has remarked, explaining that these works "refer once again to the articulation of Inca masonry, representative of an indigenous South American culture and also of a cosmic order."[2] That conflation of structure and symbol is carried over into the present Grafismo universal sobre fondo gris, in which a tightly compacted grid is inscribed with indigenous motifs and abstract patterns. Torres-García's constructivist paintings from this period show a pronounced graphic quality, and their dense modularity--derived from the Golden Section, a mathematical proportion thought to connote structural parallels with the cosmos--conceptually correlates Indo-American symbolism within a universal plane. This humanist integration of figurative motifs against the abstraction of the grid may be seen to embody the interface between differing layers of reality, suggesting a timeless expression of metaphysical order, unity, and harmony.

    A classic, black-and-white example from the Montevidean period, Grafismo universal sobre fondo gris incorporates a rich multiplicity of pictographs that populate the structure of the grid. Although Torres-García intended these symbols to be understood in their most universal and multivalent sense, more particular meanings may nevertheless be posited. Boats were a recurring theme in his work, archetypal images that evoked both the artist's own trans-Atlantic passages and, in more cosmic sense, the allegorical voyage of life. "A ship can suggest the idea of exploration and discovery, the process of traveling from one place or consciousness to another," Valerie Fletcher has noted. "If a ship suggests perennial passage," however, "its anchor suggests stability and security, and an arrow or compass suggests purposeful direction and control over movements . . . . Similarly, a ladder or key can suggest transition from one domain to another, while a clock suggests the changes occurring with the passage of time."[3] A microcosm of universal order, Grafismo universal sobre fondo gris projects a vibrant composite image of transcendence and unity, animated at its core by the rich symbology and history of the Americas.

    Abby McEwen, Assistant Professor, University of Maryland, College Park
    1) Joaquín Torres-García, quoted in Juan Fló, "Torres-García in (and from) Montevideo," El Taller Torres-García: The School of the South and its Legacy (Austin: The University of Texas Press, 1992), 31.
    2) Margit Rowell, "Order and Symbol: The European and American Sources of Torres-García's Constructivism," Torres-García: Grid-Pattern-Sign, Paris-Montevideo, 1924-1944 (London: Arts Council of Great Britain, 1985), 18.
    3) Valerie Fletcher, Crosscurrents of Modernism: Four Latin American Pioneers, Diego Rivera, Joaquín Torres-García, Wifredo Lam, Matta (Washington, D.C.: Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, 1992), 115.


    Estate of the artist, Family Collection (inventory no. 547).
    Alejandra, Aurelio and Claudio Torres collection.
    Galerie Jan Krugier, Ditesheim and Cie, Geneva.
    Acquired from the above by the present owner (1999).

    Pre-Lot Text



    Exhibition catalogue, Joaquín Torres-García; obras de museos y colecciones particulares de Montevideo y Buenos Aires, Buenos Aires, Centro de Artes Visuales, Instituto Torcuato Di Tella, 1964, no. 7 (illustrated).
    E. Jardí, Torres-García, Ediciones Polígrafa, Barcelona, 1973, p. 205, no. 288 (illustrated).
    Exhibition catalogue, Bilder sind night verboten, Düsseldorf, Städtische Kunsthalle, 1982, p. 135, no. 181 (illustrated).
    Exhibition catalogue, Torres-García, Barcelona, Museu Picasso, 2003-2004, p. 276, no. 271 (illustrated in color).


    Buenos Aires, Centro de Artes Visuales, Instituto Torcuato Di Tella, Joaquín Torres-García: Obras de museos y colecciones particulares de Montevideo y Buenos Aires, 4- 29 November 1964, no. 7.
    Montevideo, Amigos del Arte, Exposición de Arte Constructivo de Joaquín Torres-García, October- November 1965, no. 3.
    Montevideo, Museo Torres-García, 28 July- 31 October 1967, no. 2.
    Düsseldorf, Städtische Kunsthalle, Bilder sind night verboten, 28 August -24 October 1982, no. 181.
    Barcelona, Museu Picasso, Torres-García, 25 November 2003- 11 April 2004, no. 271.