• Impressionist / Modern Evening auction at Christies

    Sale 8049

    Impressionist / Modern Evening Sale

    7 February 2012, London, King Street

  • Lot 4

    Robert Delaunay (1885-1941)

    Tour Eiffel

    Price Realised  


    Robert Delaunay (1885-1941)
    Tour Eiffel
    signed 'r. delaunay' (lower right)
    oil on canvas
    77 1/8 x 44 7/8 in. (196 x 114 cm.)
    Painted in Paris in 1926

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    Richard Riss and Jean-Louis Delaunay have confirmed the authenticity of this painting.

    The Eiffel Tower is one of the most iconic structures in the world, still towering above the city of Paris and its architecture. This cast-iron pyramid was a beacon of modernity, of progress, and nowhere was this status more vividly embodied than in Robert Delaunay's paintings of it, which became beacons of modernity within the European artistic community. The Eiffel Tower is one of the most celebrated of Delaunay's motifs, having appeared in his work during the last years of the first decade of the Twentieth Century and reappearing in the 1920s. Painted in 1926, Tour Eiffel forms a part of the latter grouping, in which Delaunay returned to his beloved subject with a new assurance, while also revelling in the return to figurative subject matter after a decade of abstraction. It is a tribute to the esteem in which these works are held that, like the pictures from the earlier series, many of the paintings of the Eiffel Tower from the 1920s are now in prominent museum collections around the world, including the closely-related work of the same title that is now in the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington DC.

    Delaunay's investigations of abstract art had dominated his work during the years of the First World War, which he had spent in self-enforced exile with his wife and fellow artist Sonia in Portugal. During that time, his so-called Orphism had reached new pinnacles of colourist vibrancy, with his pictures often comprising wheels of luminous paint. It was in 1921 that he returned to Paris, and likewise to figuration, for instance in his portrait of the poet Philippe Souppault from 1922, in which the Eiffel Tower loomed in the background. Despite this return to figuration, the background of Tour Eiffel manages to fuse both arenas: the background is a patchwork of vivid colour which invokes the abstract paintings of Delaunay and the textiles of his wife while also giving a sense of the Parisian city grid, anchoring it in reality. That root in the Parisian landscape is made all the more apparent by comparison with Delaunay's 1924 painting of the Eiffel Tower now in the Dallas Museum of Art and one similar to it in the Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris from 1926. There, the tower and its surroundings are shown from a similarly high vantage-point, yet the patchwork clearly delineates the paths, roads and blocks. In Tour Eiffel, by contrast, there is less overt a relationship to the forms of the city, which are evoked, rather than represented: the quilt-like backdrop forms a vibrant, pulsing backdrop to the more intricate details of the tower itself, which rises towards the viewer's elevated, indeed aerial, view in its criss-crossing patterns which contrast so dynamically with the larger blocks of colour underneath. The background perfectly reveals Delaunay's fascination with, and virtuoso manipulation of, colour. Through his masterful juxtapositions, these colour fields combine to create a vivid sense of luminosity that makes the tower itself all the more lively a presence. This is a colourist tour de force, showcasing both his most celebrated subject matter and also the Orphism that he had spearheaded during the 1910s in particular.

    For Delaunay, these aspects reflected his search for a means of 'Pure Painting'. He was furthering the developments made by such pioneers as his artistic heroes Georges Seurat - who himself had painted the Eiffel Tower some years earlier - and Paul Cézanne. Both Seurat's and Cézanne's works had been prominently exhibited in Paris around the middle of the first decade of the Twentieth Century in shows which had a watershed effect on several of the artists at the time, and confirmed to Delaunay the importance of taking painting to pieces before reassembling it. For this reason, he referred to some of his pictures as 'destructive': he had blasted to pieces the normal conventions of representation, instead seeking something new. Delaunay's pictures were sometimes related to the Cubism that was evolving during the same period at the beginning of the Twentieth Century; indeed, some of their influences and intentions were similar. In the interiors of the Church of Saint-Séverin which were to become such crucial touchstones for the German Expressionists - one of them was even illustrated in the Blaue Reiter Almanac - Delaunay focussed on capturing a sense of light and physical space through means that were highly modern, and which were thrust into relief by their contrast with the ancient structure represented.

    By contrast, in Delaunay's subsequent pictures of Paris, first in wide cityscapes and subsequently in works focussing on the Eiffel Tower, it was modernity itself that came to be the subject. The real-life proto-Cubist, proto-Futurist, proto-Simultaneist structure of the Eiffel Tower came increasingly to centre stage in Delaunay's paintings: where in the city views, it initially provided a focal point in the distance which nonetheless articulated the entire landscape, it came to be the entire focus, dominating the expanse of the canvas, its beacon-like status accentuated by the rust-like red with which he increasingly depicted it. In his 1926 reprisal of the subject, the Tower again takes up most of the canvas. Indeed, in Tour Eiffel, the summit of the tower does not even appear here: the downward view crops the structure, meaning that it appears to cover much of the picture surface, as though we were passing aviators swooping around and looking down its expanse, referencing the aerial photography and the pioneers of flight which had both been such important inspirations to Delaunay.

    Delaunay broke up the form of the Eiffel Tower in his earlier series of images of the building, for instance the 1910 painting in the Kunstmuseum, Basel; these paved the way for the abstraction that would imminently come to figure so prominently in his paintings for a period. Intriguingly, considering his great influences, Seurat and Cézanne, the tower itself was an edifice that allowed him to explore both the concepts of the representation of three-dimensional structures within the context of painting and also of light and the way in which the eye perceives reality. In this sense, many of Delaunay's pictures can be seen as a steady progression, taking Seurat's legacy further and further. This had begun already in some of his pictures from the early years of the Twentieth Century, which sometimes represented the world through bold blocks of colour. During the years of the First World War in particular, this evolved into full-blown abstraction, prompting the poet Guillaume Apollinaire to coin the phrase 'Orphism' to describe the work of the Delaunays. Robert Delaunay struggled sometimes with this sobriquet, finding in part that Apollinaire included too many other artists under the same umbrella and also apparently being reluctant to have such openly poetic associations with his work. For Delaunay, Simultaneism was one of the terms that came closer to describing his artistic intentions. In the use of colour in Tour Eiffel and its predecessors, the focus on light and colour and the highly analytical manner in which the latter has been juxtaposed in order to create the former reveals the firm vision of Delaunay himself, who was both a pioneering artist and an important theoretician, an intellectual presence on the art scene in Paris both before and after his time in Portugal.

    In Tour Eiffel, both Delaunay's abstract style and the emphatic figuration of the Parisian cityscapes is on bold display in an image which is a searing blaze of modernity. While the return to figuration of the 1920s can be seen in a sense as a parallel to the Rappel à l'ordre which had such an influence on so much of the avant garde in the wake of the tumult of the First World War, the landscape in the background recalls his earlier works, as well as those of Paul Klee, who was hugely influenced by him. In this way, Delaunay has managed to use his own almost heraldic sign, the Eiffel Tower, the rallying point around which so much of the avant garde had gathered a decade and a half earlier, and to combine it with the developments that emerged from that very series, meaning that in his 1920s images of the building, he was showing not only the formative steps of the 1910s, but also the ensuing results. The picture sings with modernity and modernism; even the perspective appears to place the viewer in the position of a pilot like Louis Blériot, the man whom Delaunay had celebrated in his pictures. Flight and light alike are enshrined in Tour Eiffel, emphasising its modern credentials.


    Galerie Louis Carré, Paris.
    Galerie Tarica, Paris.
    Hubertus Wald, Hamburg, by whom acquired from the above on 3 October 1977.

    Pre-Lot Text



    G. Habasque, Robert Delaunay, Du Cubisme à l'Art Abstrait, Paris, 1957, no. 240.


    Paris, Galerie Louis Carré, Robert Delaunay, 1885-1941, December 1946 - January 1947, no. 14.
    New York, Sidney Janis Gallery, The Early Delaunay, December 1948 - January 1949, no. 19.
    New York, Louis Carré Gallery, The Artist in the Machine Age, October - November 1950, no. 4.
    New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Robert Delaunay, March - May 1955, no. 40.
    Boston, Institute of Contemporary Art, Robert Delaunay, 1955.
    Leverkusen, Städtisches Museum Morsbroich, R. Delaunay, June - July 1956, no. 58 (illustrated pl. 9); this exhibition later travelled to Freiburg, Kunstverein, July - August 1956.
    Lyon, Robert Strasbourg, Château des Rohan, Exposition La Grande Aventure de l'Art du XXe Siècle, June - September 1963, no. 122.
    Cologne, Kölnischer Kunstverein, Autour du Cubisme, April - May 1964, no. 6.
    Paris, Musee d'art moderne de la ville de Paris, Robert Delaunay, Sonia Delaunay, May - September 1985.
    Hamburg, Kunsthalle, Robert Delaunay, Sonia Delaunay - das Centre Pompidou zu Gast in Hamburg, September - November 1999, no. 54.
    Hamburg, Kunsthalle, Sammlung Wald, September - November 2003.