Fritz Glarner (1899-1972)
Fritz Glarner (1899-1972)
Fritz Glarner (1899-1972)
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Fritz Glarner (1899-1972)

Relational Painting #70

Details
Fritz Glarner (1899-1972)
Relational Painting #70
signed and dated 'GLARNER 1954' (lower left); signed and dated again, titled and inscribed 'RELATIONAL PAINTING #70 NEW YORK 1954 FRITZ GLARNER' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
28 x 16 1/8 in. (71.3 x 41 cm.)
Painted in New York in 1954.
Provenance
Galerie Louis Carré, Paris (by 1955).
B.C. Holland, Chicago.
Barbara Mathes Gallery, New York (acquired from the above, October 1984).
Acquired from the above by the present owners, 21 December 1985.
Literature
D. Ashton, "Fritz Glarner" in XXe siècle, nouvelle série, June 1957, no. IX, pp. 46-49 (illustrated in color).
S. Alexandrian, Dictionnaire universel de l'art des artistes, Paris, 1967, vol. 2, p. 43 (illustrated in color).
M. Staber, Fritz Glarner, Zürich, 1976, p. 132 (illustrated).
Exhibited
Paris, Galerie Louis Carré, Glarner: Rythme de New-York, October-November 1955, no. 21.
Kunsthaus Zürich, Josef Albers, Fritz Glarner, Friedrich Vordemberge-Gildewart, April-June 1956, p. 33, no. 90 (illustrated).
Chartres, Chambre de Commerce, Exposition de peinture contemporaine, May-June 1958.
Paris, Galerie Louis Carré, Fritz Glarner: Peintures (1949-1962), February-March 1966, no. X (illustrated in color on the cover).
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Ana Maria Celis
Ana Maria Celis

Lot Essay

By the time the Swiss-born artist Fritz Glarner arrived in New York in 1936, he had spent almost a decade living and working in Paris, absorbing the revolutionary ideas and visual styles championed by the city’s artistic avant garde, from Futurism to Cubism, Purism to Surrealism. However, it was the language of De Stijl, and in particular the elegant purity of Piet Mondrian’s abstract paintings, which left an indelible mark on Glarner’s imagination. Though Glarner and Mondrian had met on occasion in Paris during the late 1920s and early 1930s, it was only after the Dutch artist’s arrival in New York in 1940 that their friendship truly blossomed. A rich exchange of ideas between the two émigrés ensued, with the pair meeting regularly both at the Glarner home and in Mondrian’s studio on 59th Street. While Glarner was still working towards his mature style at this time, constantly testing and refining his artistic theories as he hovered on the edge of a breakthrough, Mondrian had entered a period of intensive experimentation in his painting, influenced by the dynamic energy of the modern city.
Following Mondrian’s untimely death at the beginning of 1944, Glarner stepped away from painting for almost a year, focusing instead on drawing, as he sought to clarify his artistic ideas and assimilate all that he had learned from the Dutch artist during their time together. Through their lively conversations and exchanges, the two comrades had fuelled one another’s artistic developments, leading Glarner to proclaim: “[Mondrian] was my friend; he was my master” (quoted in Abstract Painting and Sculpture in America 1927-1944, New York, 1983, p. 148). The canvases which emerged in the aftermath of this short break—which the artist termed Relational Paintingsillustrate the originality and nuance with which Glarner approached the Neo-Plastic aesthetic, while also revealing the primary artistic challenge that would occupy the painter for the rest of his career. Created in 1954, Relational Painting #70 is a key example from this series, capturing the dynamism and complexity of Glarner’s style at its height, as he explored the manner in which the subtlest modulation of shape, color or arrangement could introduce new relationships within an intricate pattern of abstract visual forms.
For Glarner, the careful ordering of form stood at the very core of his art, as he focused on the similarities and dissonances conjured between each geometric shape and its neighbour as they interacted with one another. Expanding upon the restricted vocabulary of forms and colors that had marked Mondrian’s canvases, the artist began to introduce diagonal lines to his work, converting rectangles into trapezoids, which expand and recede in opposing directions to create a lively pattern of overlapping forms. During a lecture in New York in February 1949, Glarner expressed how important this liberation from rectangularity had been to him: “The diagonal or the incline, which I have introduced into my paintings, creates a stronger dynamic movement. The diagonal establishes the structure, which determines the space and liberates the form” (quoted in Fritz Glarner, exh. cat., Kunsthalle Bern, 1972). Indeed, due to the 15 degree slant of their shared edges, these wedges appear to pulsate back and forth, creating an intense rhythmic energy that seems to push against the very limits of the canvas.
In contrast to Mondrian, whose classic grids and flat planes seem fixed in place, Glarner’s forms slip and shift, resulting in an effect which the artist called “pumping planes,” whereby shape and ground appear to alternate upon the canvas. This connection between form and space, foreground and background, is so intimate in his paintings that they become of equal importance within the compositional structure, blending and shifting before our eyes. “When the form area and the space area are of the same structure, a new aspect arises in which pure means can reveal their intrinsic expression,” the artist explained. “It is my belief that the truth will manifest itself more clearly through this new condition” (quoted in K.E. Willers, Between Mondrian and Minimalism, Neo-Plasticism in America, exh. cat., The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 1991). Color was an important tool in achieving this sensation, with the artist assigning each form a distinct hue from a strictly limited palette of primary colours and removing any demarcating lines between them, to allow a more direct interaction between each pigment. Whereas the shades of black, white, red, yellow and blue were all standardized within his compositions, grey appeared in a diversity of tones, subtly modulated to enhance or reduce the pictorial rhythm in different areas of the composition.
As with Mondrian’s compositions from the early 1940s, there is a dynamic spirit to Glarner’s Relational Paintings, one which suggests an inspiration beyond just pure, abstract form. As Dorothy C. Miller explained: “His work is severely non-objective but it always has its roots in nature, or, as he would say, life. This ‘life’ is that of the modern city, specifically the city of New York. It is a life perceived and felt, not filtered through subject matter, casual observation or conventional associations” (“Fritz Glarner” in L. Goodrich, New Art in America: Fifty Painters of the 20th Century, New York, 1957, p. 225). This connection between Glarner’s paintings and the dynamic energy of his adopted city was celebrated in the exhibition Glarner: Rythme de New-York at the Galerie Louis Carré in Paris in 1955, a show which included Relational Painting #70.

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