Emilio Pettoruti (Argentinian 1892-1971)
Emilio Pettoruti (Argentinian 1892-1971)

L'oiseau tropical

Emilio Pettoruti (Argentinian 1892-1971)
L'oiseau tropical
signed, dated, titled and dedicated 'Pettoruti, L'OISEAU TROPICAL, I-1960, PARA FINA QUE LLEVO EN MI CORAZÓN, PARIS 1964, EMILIO' (on the reverse) and inscribed 'PETTORUTI' (on the back stretcher bar)
oil on canvas
70 7/8 x 27 5/8 in. (180 x 70.1 cm.)
Painted in 1960.
Galerie Charpentier, Paris.
Acquired from the above (1964).
C. Córdova Iturburu, Buenos Aires, 1981, p. 75 (illustrated).
R. Squirru, J. Lassaigne et al., Pettoruti, Buenos Aires, Fundación Pettoruti, 1995, no. 446 (illustrated and listed as Pájaro tropical III).
Buenos Aires, Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, 1962, no. 18.
Paris, Galerie Charpentier, Pettoruti: 50 ans de peinture, 1964, no. 117.

Lot Essay

The Argentine painter Emilio Pettoruti is recognized internationally along with other artists of his generation who working between various cities in Argentina, Brazil, and Venezuela who made important contributions to concrete and neo-concrete abstraction. In 1953, he moved to Paris, where he created lyrical abstract works that explored visual perception, the flatness of the picture plane, and the play between figure and ground. These abstract works are characterized by rigorous formal concerns alongside his characteristic eye for color gradations. As is evidenced by his poetic titles with reference to nature, as in L'Oiseau Tropical of 1960, Pettoruti investigated the tensions between abstraction and figuration, geometry and nature, and visual perception that were the subject of pictorial and theoretical debates among many artists during this period. It was during the 1950s that he returned to abstraction, initiating his final series, which engaged him until the end of his life, in 1971. In his works starting in the 1910s, Pettoruti created works in series, and indeed L'Oiseau Tropical is part of a group that he began in 1957. Such serial production points to his long-term interest in with the visual and chromatic possibilities of abstraction.

During the 1950s, Pettoruti's work was included in various exhibitions in Europe, the United States and Latin America devoted to the history of abstraction. Perhaps the recognition of the importance of his work of the teens, during which he engaged with Futurism and Cubism, as well as his great still-life and figure paintings of the 1920s and 1940s led him to revisit his earlier works, in which he articulated a critique of mimetic realism while retaining references to nature and the human figure. In his work from the late teens, for example, we see the beginning of the faceted geometric forms, nuanced chromatic gradations, and radical flattening of pictorial space found in later works, such as L'Oiseau Tropical. The interruption of linear trajectories through shifts in color that we see in the 1950s works also originated in the earlier works. Thus, the final series are a culmination of his explorations of line, color, and the limits of abstraction. In L'Oiseau Tropical, shades of blue, brown, green and red evoke birds' fluttering wings, as well as the lush sky, sea, and foliage that is their habitat. At the top, what appears to be part of a cube is interrupted by a series of triangular shapes, which make up the central portion of the canvas. The latter in turn fan out like plumage and recall the fleeting appearance of birds moving through sky and trees. They also point in various directions, as subtle shifts in color lead the eye to seek depth then frustrate any vestige of illusionism. At the central point of the composition, the juxtaposition of opposing colors --green and red, motion and stillness--seems to signal this break with the movement of the eye as it perceives figure/ground relationships.

These abstract works date from the period in which Pettoruti's international recognition was consolidated. Starting in the 1950s, he was among the artists in important gallery and museum exhibitions documenting the history of abstraction, among them the Denise René gallery in Paris, which showed other artists who worked with abstraction such as Jesús Rafael Soto, Carlos Cruz Diez, and Almir Mavignier. His work was also included in landmark shows of Latin American art in the United States, such as South American Art Today (1959) at the Dallas Museum of Art, and Precursors of Modernism: 1860-1920 at New York's Center for Inter-American Relations (now Americas Society) in 1967. His work was the subject of several one man shows internationally and was included in important more recent exhibitions such as Futurismo & Futurismi (Palazzo Grassi, 1986), The Latin American Spirit: Art and Artists in the United States (Bronx Museum of the Arts, 1988), Art d'Amerique Latine: 1911-1988 (Centre Georges Pompidou, 1992), Abstract Art from the Río de la Plata: Buenos Aires and Montevideo (Americas Society, 2001), and Artistas modernos rioplatenses en Europa, 1911-1924, la experiencia de la vanguardia (MALBA, 2003). Pettoruti's work is included in the collections of many museums in Argentina, as well as institutions abroad including The Museum of Modern Art and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, that acquired his works in the early 1940s.

Dr. Miriam Basilio, Assistant Professor of Art History and Museum Studies, New York University.

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