Upcoming Auctions and Events

Global notice COVID-19 Important notice
Max Weber (1881-1961)
Property of H.F. ‘Gerry’ Lenfest
Max Weber (1881-1961)

New York

Details
Max Weber (1881-1961)
New York
signed and dated 'Max Weber '13' (lower left)
oil on canvas
40 x 32 in. (101.6 x 81.3 cm.)
Painted in 1913.
Provenance
Wright Ludington, Santa Barbara, California, by 1948.
Edith Gregor Halpert, New York.
Sotheby Parke-Bernet, New York, The Edith G. Halpert Collection of American Paintings, 14 March 1973, lot 35, sold by the above.
Gilbert Galleries, New York.
Hirschl & Adler Galleries, Inc., New York, acquired from the above, 1977.
Carl D. Lobell, New York, acquired from the above, 1978.
[With]Forum Gallery, New York.
Andrew Crispo Gallery, Inc., New York, acquired from the above.
Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection, Lugano, Switzerland.
Phillips de Pury & Luxembourg, New York, 3 December 2002, lot 73, sold by the above.
Hollis Taggart Galleries, New York, acquired from the above.
Acquired by the present owner from the above.
Literature
American Artists Group, Max Weber, New York, 1945, n.p., illustrated.
A. Werner, Max Weber, New York, 1975, pp. 43, 48, 61, illustrated.
P.B. North, Max Weber: The Early Paintings, 1905-1920, Ph.D. dissertation, University of Delaware, 1975, p. 252, fig. 6-2, illustrated.
M.S. Young, “Scope and Catholicity: Nineteenth and Twentieth-Century American Paintings,” Apollo, vol. CXVIII, no. 257, July 1983, p. 86, illustrated.
D. Ricciotti, “The Revolution in Urban Transport: Max Weber and Italian Futurism,” The American Art Journal, vol. XVI, no. 1, Winter 1984, pp. 51-53, 56, 59, illustrated.
M. Schleier, The Skyscraper in American Art, 1890-1931, Ph.D. dissertation, University of California at Berkeley, 1983, pp. 120, 122, fig. 66, illustrated.
G. Levin, The Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection: Twentieth-Century American Painting, London, 1987, pp. 154-57, no. 47, illustrated.
W.M. Corn, The Great American Thing: Modern and National Identity, 1915-1935, Berkeley, California, 1999, pp. 176-77, fig. 154, illustrated.
G. Berghaus, International Futurism in Arts and Literature, European Cultures: Studies in Literature and the Arts, vol. 13, Berlin, Germany, 2000, p. 235.
Exhibited
London, Alpine Club Gallery, Grafton Group Exhibition, March 15-31, 1913, no. 27.
Paris, France, Galerie Bernheim-Jeune, Exposition Max Weber, January 26-February 13, 1924, no. 8.
San Francisco, California, San Francisco Museum of Art, The Collection of Wright Ludington, May 13-June 20, 1948.
New York, Museum of Modern Art, Abstract Painting and Sculpture in America, January 23-March 25, 1951, no. 106, pp. 32, 37, illustrated.
Cincinnati, Ohio, Contemporary Art Center; Dayton, Ohio, Dayton Art Institute; Cincinnati, Ohio, Cincinnati Art Museum, September-November 1957.
New York, The Downtown Gallery, 43rd Anniversary Exhibition, September 10-October 5, 1968.
Washington, D.C., National Collection of Fine Arts, Smithsonian Institution, Opening Exhibition, May-September 1968, p. 20.
Washington, D.C., National Collection of Fine Arts, Smithsonian Institution, Edith Gregor Halpert Memorial Exhibition, April 7-June 25, 1972, no. 31.
Corpus Christi, Texas, Art Museum of South Texas, A Selection of American Paintings from the Estate of the Late Edith Gregor Halpert, New York, January 19-February 10, 1973.
New York, Andrew Crispo Gallery, Inc., American Masters, 1977, no. 88.
Lugano, Switzerland, Villa Mapensata, Collezione Thyssen-Bornemisza: Arte Moderne, September 1-November 5, 1978, no. 106.
Perth, Australia, Art Gallery of Western Australia; Adelaide, Australia, Art Gallery of South Australia; Brisbane, Australia, Queensland Art Gallery; Melbourne, Australia, National Gallery of Victoria; Sydney, Australia, Art Gallery of New South Wales; Wellington, New Zealand, National Art Gallery; Auckland, New Zealand, Auckland City Art Gallery; Christchurch, New Zealand, Robert McDougall Art Gallery, America & Europe: A Century of Modern Masters from the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection, October 2, 1979-December 7, 1980, no. 36, illustrated.
Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art; Hartford, Connecticut, Wadsworth Atheneum; Toledo, Ohio, Toledo Museum of Art; Seattle, Washington, Seattle Art Museum; San Francisco, California, San Francisco Museum of Art; New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Twentieth Century Masters: The Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection, May 30, 1982-November 27, 1983, p. 36, no. 27, illustrated.
Cologne, Germany, Galerie Gmurzynska, Pioniere der Abstrakten Kunst Aus der Sammlung Thyssen-Bornemisza, September 1-30, 1986, pp. 194-95, illustrated.
Kobe, Japan, Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Modern Art; Nagoya, Japan, Nagoya City Art Museum; Tokyo, Japan, The Bunkamura Museum of Art; Hiroshima, Japan, Hiroshima City Museum of Contemporary Art, Two Hundred Years of American Paintings from the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection, January 5-August 25, 1991, no. 33.
Atlanta, Georgia, High Museum of Art; Houston, Texas, The Museum of Fine Arts, Max Weber: The Cubist Decade, 1910-1920, December 10, 1991-May 3, 1992, pp. 57, 101, no. 38, illustrated.
New York, Hollis Taggart Galleries, Celebrating 25 Years, March 10-April 23, 2005.

Lot Essay

The city itself serves as urban subject for New York, Max Weber's radical 1913 painting. Among the earliest works to depict America’s energized and technologically advanced era at the turn of the century, the large-scale oil on canvas was executed following the artist’s return to New York City after an extended stay in Paris from 1905 to 1909. Miles of elevated train tracks and massive skyscrapers like the 47-story-tall Singer Tower had shot up during the four years the Russian-born, Brooklyn-raised artist was away in Europe. Construction and machinery were now a ubiquitous part of life in New York City, and the fast-growing metropolis fascinated Weber. With a fusion of Cubist and Futurist elements, New York marks the moment of Weber’s breakthrough into his singular modernist style.

New York debuted the same year it was painted, featuring prominently in Roger Fry’s first Grafton Group Exhibition in London. Weber and Wassily Kandisky were the only non-English artists asked to participate in the prestigious “Post-Impressionist” exhibition which opened the day New York’s Armory Show closed. Weber was the best represented artist in this important international exhibition, and as Percy North asserts, “New York was its uncontested star.” (Max Weber: American Modern, New York, 1982, p. 43) The artist’s reputation as America’s leading importer of European modernism was soon established.

New York showcases Weber’s persuasive and personal form of modernism, one in which Cubist and Futurist components are combined. This compelling aesthetic originated with Weber’s cityscapes from the 1910s, as curator Lloyd Goodrich observes, “Their style was related to Cubism, but their content—lyrical glorification of the city, its speed and dynamism—was nearer to Futurism.” (Max Weber: Retrospective Exhibition, New York, 1949, p. 29) Much of the speed and dynamism in turn-of-the-century Manhattan came from the mechanized subways and elevated trains traversing its streets. The pace of life and of travel were now faster than ever, and according to Dominic Ricciotti, capturing this modern form of movement was one of Weber’s chief concerns: “New York, painted in 1913, is significant as Weber’s first major attempt in oil at the transport subject. With Futurist principles apparently in mind, he sought to find an original solution to the problem of rendering the traveler’s movement through the great metropolis.” (“The Revolution in Urban Transport: Max Weber and Italian Futurism,” The American Art Journal, vol. 16, no. 1, Winter 1994, p. 47) In New York, Weber snakes translucent forms throughout the active composition to relay a sense of swirling motion. Weaving arcs recall the s-curves of the city’s growing rail system, and as reported by a 1915 Sun newspaper critic, the dynamic flow of New York City's trains was captured: “Something sinuous, a great worm or serpent, twists its slow length along this curious picture. This serpent starts in the picture from a spot, that, since we know the title of the picture, we can guess to be City Hall, and winds in and out of the whole city. It is not, however, what you think it is. It is, the artist explains, merely the ‘Subway Influence.’” (Sun, January 31, 1915)

The technology and industry driving the modern city are further indicated by rising puffs of smoke that curl across New York’s maze of buildings. Overlapping and interlacing steam with skyline, Weber's New York “reflected an unphotographable vantage point on the city’s dynamic surging energy,” declares Percy North. (Max Weber: The Cubist Decade, 1910-1920, Atlanta, Georgia, 1991, p. 31) The powerful energy of early twentieth-century New York City lay in its forward-facing gaze, and Weber’s Futurist overtones present this essential urban quality. The scattered thrusts of New York’s buildings recall Umberto Boccioni’s The Forces of the Street (1911, Osaka City Museum of Art, Osaka, Japan) where receding force-lines generate a radiating dynamism. Weber’s bold diagonals transmit the activity of the city much like the Futurist’s force-lines. “Futurism was in the air,” Alfred Werner explains of the artistic climate in the 1910s, and Weber injected the vanguard style into numerous New York-related pictures from that decade. (Max Weber, New York, 1975, p. 46) Although he created similar views of Manhattan previously, New York was Weber’s largest cityscape. Its grand scale suggests that by 1913 Weber was confident in his ability to capture the action and ambition of his booming hometown.

Along with addressing the overall vitality of city life, New York highlights one modern urban advance: the skyscraper. Weber and his close friend, the photographer Alvin Langdon Coburn, walked New York City’s sidewalks together to marvel at the rising towers like the Woolworth Building. Deciding these brand new buildings demanded to be viewed in an equally new way, in 1912 Weber and Coburn went to the rooftops of as many Manhattan buildings as possible. These excursions proved inspirational for both artists. Coburn’s vertiginous photograph House of a Thousand Windows (1912, The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri) looks down at the city’s streets and buildings rather than looking up from them. New York shares this innovative bird’s-eye view, emphasizing the verticality of the city’s skyscrapers and its urban panorama—which contains the sweeping curves of the Brooklyn Bridge’s cables—beyond. Photographers like Alfred Stieglitz had been capturing the city directly for two decades, but New York’s aerial vantage point gave Weber the opportunity to go beyond strict representation to present multiple moments and perspectives within a single composition.

The mature and blended modernism of New York had its roots in Paris, where Weber first became acquainted with Cubism and Fauvism. Among the artist’s avant-garde circle of associates were Pablo Picasso, Henri Rousseau and Robert Delauney; Weber absorbed their intellectual and artistic concepts. Living and working in the European capital from 1905 to 1909 was fortuitous, acknowledges Abraham Davidson: “Weber could not have arrived in Paris at a more opportune time. Matisse was exploring the brilliant colors of Persia; Picasso was experimenting with the planar surfaces of African masks and beginning to develop the theories of what became known as Cubism.” (Early American Modernist Paintings, 1910-1935, New York, 1994, p. 29) Weber experimented at length with Cubist still lifes and Fauve-like color while living in Paris, but with Cubo-Futurist overtones and the city as its subject, New York reveals a distinctively American character. “Weber's Cubist paintings bear his personal signature in their attention to contemporary American subjects rather than the traditional genres the French Cubists favored,” reports Percy North. “In contrast to the cerebral pleasures of French Cubism, Weber's Cubist paintings generate emotional exhilaration through an inventive language of visual form.” (“Bringing Cubism to America: Max Weber and Pablo Picasso,” American Art, vol. 14, no. 3, Autumn 2000, p.73)

Weber’s synthesis of numerous styles gave New York a distinctive American modernism that resonated back in Europe. Robert Delaunay’s Tour Eiffel (Private Collection), painted in 1926, exhibits many of the same stylistic choices as Weber’s work from the previous decade. Like New York, Tour Eiffel observes its subject from a dizzying distance above. Delaunay’s vibrant color palette recollects the non-naturalistic colors of New York’s skyscrapers and avenues. Weber was one of the first to recognize that the inventions of French Cubists were ideally suited for representing a modern urban environment, and both Tour Eiffel and New York bear this out.

With its innovative use of perspective, color and style, New York immediately grabbed the attention of the press when it debuted in 1913. Painter and writer Alfred Thornton suggested New York was “the kind of mind picture that frequently floats before one at the delightful daily phase of existence that lies between sleeping and waking—the state called ‘hypnagogic’ by psychologists.” (“Post-Impressionism,” Observer, April 6, 1913) This dream-like characterization of New York is fitting given Weber’s use of abstraction as a tool to evoke the urban atmosphere. “Weber’s New York pictures expressed sensations aroused by the whole spectacle of city life,” explains Lloyd Goodrich. “They were not restricted to tangible objects; space, light, color, movement; all entered into them.” (Max Weber: Retrospective Exhibition, New York, 1949, p. 29)

New York is a labyrinth of buildings, a riot of bold color and a swirl of energy. The painting itself is a melting pot, much like the city it depicts. Weber’s work echoes the diverse spirit of turn-of-the-century America through his ground-breaking form of painting which mirrored the complexities of modern life.

More from American Art

View All
View All