Joaquín Torres-García (1874-1949)
Joaquín Torres-García (1874-1949)
Joaquín Torres-García (1874-1949)
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Joaquín Torres-García (1874-1949)

Port gris au bateau rose

Joaquín Torres-García (1874-1949)
Port gris au bateau rose
signed J. Torres-GARCIA' (upper left), dated '28' (upper right), inscribed 'C. M.P.' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
21 ¼ x 25 5/8 in. (54 x 65.1 cm.)
Painted in 1928.
Artist's estate.
Manolita Piña de Torres-García, Montevideo.
Augusto Torres, Montevideo.
Galería Palatina, Buenos Aires.
Galería Guillermo de Osma, Madrid.
Private collection, London.
L. Pazos, "El que adelantó el reloj," Somos Arte, 1 May 1981, p. 34 (illustrated).
M. E. Vazquez, "Casi un Profeta' Torres-García," Buenos Aires, La Nación, 17 May 1981 (illustrated in color).
M. H. Gradowczyk, Joaquín Torres-García, Artistas de América, Buenos Aires, Ediciones de Arte Gaglianone, 1985, p. 105, no. 75 (illustrated in color).
C. de Torres,, Joaquín Torres-García Online Catalogue Raisonné (, no. 1928.78 (illustrated in color).
Montevideo, Uruguay, Museo Nacional de Artes Plásticas, Torres-García, July 1974, no. 48.
Buenos Aires, Galería Palatina, Joaquín Torres-García 1927-1930, 22 April 1981, no. 3.
Madrid, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, J.Torres-García, 18 June–21 August 1991, p. 79, no. 39 (illustrated in color). This exhibition also traveled to Valencia, Institut Valencià d'Art Modern (IVAM) Centre Julio González, 5 September – 10 November 1991.
Further details
1 Theo van Doesburg, “Torres-García’s Planism,” in Torres-García: Grid-Pattern-Sign, Paris-Montevideo, 1924-1944 (London: Arts Council of Great Britain, 1985), 101-2.
2 Joaquín Torres-García to van Doesburg, December 3, 1929, in The Antagonistic Link: Joaquín Torres-García, Theo van Doesburg (Amsterdam: Institute of Contemporary Art, 1991), 34.
3 Torres-García, “Some Advice to Artists,” in Inverted Utopias: Avant-Garde Art in Latin America, ed. Mari Carmen Ramírez and Héctor Olea (Houston: The Museum of Fine Arts, 2004), 456.

Lot Essay

“As the painter Torres-García says, we must live within the universal,” wrote the Dutch artist Theo van Doesburg in 1929 of his friend, with whom he shared a commitment to Neo-Plastic (and Platonic) precepts of ideal and balanced harmony. “To watch the painter at work in his studio in Montmartre is to discover a creator,” he pronounced. “A new world opens up, an intimate world of human creation. You are in close contact with a spiritual environment in which everything partakes of the promorphic atmosphere of creation.” Torres-García had arrived in Paris in September 1926, following stints in Barcelona, New York, Italy, and southern France. He circulated among an international group of artists exploring paths within geometric abstraction, among them Jean Hélion, Jean Xceron, Piet Mondrian, and van Doesburg, the Dutch co-founder of the De Stijl movement. The rapid, prolific progression of his work from 1928 to 1930 evinces his absorption of De Stijl’s utopian vision, distilled in an axiomatic geometry of straight lines and blocks of primary colors, and the early consolidation of Constructive Universalism, his syncretic theory of abstraction. “Torres-García expresses his plastic intuition immediately and spontaneously by using colour-planes and elementary lines,” raved van Doesburg. “He lives in an atmosphere of creation.”1
Port gris au bateau rose captures the creative flux of this period, reprising familiar themes— ports and boats, transatlantic voyaging—but now within an incipiently planar ground of muted primary colors. The pink boat bears the name Lutetia, a reference to the Roman town built on the site of modern-day Paris; it may specifically refer to the S.S. Lutetia, a French liner that followed a route from Bordeaux to Buenos Aires (with a stop in Montevideo) in the 1920s. Here, the boat is docked in “Europa,” spelled out in the space between land and sea; the letters visually connect the vessel to the French Tricolor that waves from the building at shore. The composition is organized into blocks of color—tonal red, ocher, white, blue—that define discrete spaces: boat, dock, building, sky. Black, graphic lines further particularize the scene, describing a port bustling with commercial activity and detailing the masts and rigging of the boat. Not yet a grid, the lines nevertheless flatten and geometricize the space, suggesting a structural stability not seen in the frenzied cacophony of his earlier Vibrationist work, developed in Barcelona with Rafael Barradas. Like other transitional works from this period, including the port scenes Grand bateau noir dans le port (1928.17) and Port bateau blanc metaphysique (1928.100), Port gris au bateau rose anticipates Torres-García’s embrace of the Neo-Plastic grid and its austere, metaphysical order the following year.
Torres-García would soon discern cosmic order in the gridded, relational structure of the image as he began to conceive Constructive Universalism, but from the beginning he resisted a doctrinaire commitment to non-objective art. “You know I am incapable of staying totally within a framework of completely abstract and pure art,” he wrote to van Doesburg in 1929.2 The diversity and mutability of Torres-García’s constructivism is among its most distinctive and radical aspects and fully in keeping with the fierce, independent streak that characterized his practice over a long and peripatetic career. “We must make our own way; each one of us must be a pathway,” he advised fellow artists in 1917. “We must live in the present, be current, at all times. Our painting should not follow a routine. It should express a fair version of what must be said at different times. Just as days vary, one from the other, so too should our works be different.” Declaring that “each of us, within ourselves, is our own aesthetic,” he cherished the singularity of creation: “Our work must only be connected individually to ourselves. We cannot paint until we see ourselves in things. We don’t know how to paint anything that doesn’t spring from a real impression.” In this way apprehending himself in the cosmos, the artist is finally able “to feel the universal; to discover a pure form that is free of all incidentals and contingencies; to catch sight of a rhythm,” Torres-García concluded. “That is what it is to be an artist.”3
Abby McEwen, Assistant Professor, University of Maryland, College Park

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