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Robert Delaunay (1885-1941)
Robert Delaunay (1885-1941)
Robert Delaunay (1885-1941)
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On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial int… Read more Property from a Private Collector
Robert Delaunay (1885-1941)

Les Coureurs

Details
Robert Delaunay (1885-1941)
Les Coureurs
signed and dated 'R Delaunay 30' (lower left)
oil on canvas
44 ½ x 57 ¼ in. (112.8 x 145.5 cm.)
Painted in 1930.
Provenance
Galerie Louis Carré, Paris.
Raoul Lévy, France; sale, Sotheby & Co., London, 23 June 1965, lot 72.
Berggruen & Cie., Paris (1965).
Nathan Cummings, Chicago (7 February 1972).
By descent from the above to the present owner.
Literature
P. Francastel and G. Habasque, Robert Delaunay: Du cubisme à l'art abstrait, Paris, 1957, p. 293, no. 268.
B. Dorival, Robert Delaunay, Brussels, 1975, p. 109 (illustrated).
Exhibited
Zürich, Kunstsalon Wolfsberg, Produktion Paris 1930: Malerei und Plastik, October-November 1930, no. 24 (illustrated).
New York, Sidney Janis Gallery, The Early Delaunay, December 1948-January 1949, no. 20.
Kunsthalle Bern, Ausstellung Robert Delaunay, July-September 1951, p. 14, no. 46.
Lausanne, Musée cantonal des beaux-arts, Rythmes et couleurs, June-September 1952, no. 17.
New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and Boston, Institute of Contemporary Art, Robert Delaunay, March-May 1955.
Paris, Fondation Mercedes-Benz, Le mouvement et la vie, November-December 1971, p. 23, no. 12 (illustrated in color; titled Les Footballeurs).
Art Institute of Chicago, Major Works from the Collection of Nathan Cummings, October-December 1973, p. 61, no. 52 (illustrated in color; titled The Football Players).
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Post Lot Text
Jean-Louis Delaunay and Richard Riss have confirmed the authenticity of this work.

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Lot essay

“In these pictures, only color, without chiaroscuro, forms the life itself of the picture,” wrote Robert Delaunay about his series of Les Coureurs, in which a group of runners, captured mid-stride, embodies the intrinsic energy and dynamism of the modern experience. Between 1924 and 1926, Delaunay painted nine oils of varying sizes and levels of finish on this vital theme, progressively distilling the composition into a montage of juxtaposed, geometric shapes in contrasting colors (Habasque, nos. 99, 226-230, 234-236). The present painting, dated 1930, represents the tenth, culminating canvas in the Coureurs sequence and the definitive resolution of these explorations into the possibilities of spatial representation through harmonies of pure pigment. “Anti-destructive, analytic,” Delaunay declared. “Color is a function of space” (A.A. Cohen, ed., The New Art of Color: The Writings of Robert and Sonia Delaunay, New York, 1978, pp. 26-27).

During the years immediately preceding the First World War, Delaunay had made his mark in Paris as the pioneer of Orphism, a visionary, avant-garde movement that originated in the geometric abstraction of Cubism but accorded primacy to color rather than form. In 1912-1913, in his series of Fenêtres and Formes circulaires, Delaunay experienced the epiphany of pure painting, revealing the possibilities to be discovered in an abstract, non-objective art of simultaneous color contrasts. “No more fruit dish, no more streets,” he declared. “This is the cosmic, visual, positive—and real—poem…the birth of our splendid era.” Soon after, he extended the principle of simultaneity to encompass content as well as color, integrating iconic symbols of modern life into his kaleidoscopic emanations of color and light. “Sky over the cities, balloons, towers, airplanes. All the poetry of modern life: that is my art” (quoted in ibid., pp. 129 and 144-145).

Delaunay first investigated the theme of the athlete in motion in the monumental Equipe de Cardiff, which Apollinaire hailed as “the most modern picture” when it was exhibited at the Salon des Indépendants in 1913 (Habasque, no. 124; Musée d’Art moderne de la Ville de Paris). Based on a photograph of a rugby match, the painting depicts a climactic moment in which a player leaps high into the air to catch the ball. The background is crammed with emblems of modernity—the Eiffel Tower, the Grand Roue, a bi-plane—that visually and symbolically magnify the upward momentum of the airborne athlete. “Sports were seen during this epoch as representative of the ‘speed-action’ spirit of modern life,” Sherry Buckberrough has written. “Delaunay has here depicted the rugby players in a lightening flash scene, representative of the energy and action of the twentieth century” (Robert Delaunay, The Discovery of Simultaneity, Ann Arbor, 1982, pp. 167-169).

The new art aims at the formal representation of space continually in movement…and colors are, in their simultaneous contrasts, the marvelous means of expression.”

Robert Delaunay

In 1922, the year after he returned to Paris from a protracted wartime stay in Spain and Portugal, Delaunay painted an increasingly abstract, synthetic version of L’Equipe de Cardiff, which represents the immediate formal and thematic precursor of the Coureurs series (Habasque, no. 199; Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh). “Old 1913 theme is taken up again in the desire for greater objectivity,” Delaunay wrote. “The actions of the colors are sharper, physically more pure, more suited to the representation of action in movement. Painting is not a symbol. It is a harmony of rhythms, in the spirit of a representation. Painting is a complete art, a whole, which represents in all its purity a plastic act, not an effect (impressionism), not an allusion (cubism and symbolism), not an anecdote (realism, naturalism), but a living act—human, creative, lyrical—with pure methods which are painting” (A.A. Cohen, ed., op. cit., 1978, p. 27).

In contrast to L’Equipe de Cardiff, in which the athletes assume a variety of individuated poses as they battle for the ball, Delaunay depicted the foot racers in Les Coureurs at the identical point in their stride, charging forward in a single, tight pack that functions as an abstract emblem of speed and progress. Only the first canvas in the series shows the athletes with facial features (Habasque, no. 224; Musée d’art moderne, Troyes); in subsequent versions, they are differentiated primarily by costume, their heads now symbolized as elemental, colored circles. In the penultimate painting in the group, which Delaunay exhibited at the Salon des Indépendants in 1926, he introduced bib numbers, emphasizing the essential anonymity of the runners (no. 236). In the present, culminating canvas, the figures’ heads are no longer the varied skin tones of earlier versions but instead pure orange ringed with a paler corona, radiating light and energy like Delaunay’s signature solar discs.

The earlier examples in the Coureurs series retain vestiges of volumetric modeling and linear perspective, depicting the runners rounding the bend of an oblong track; in the Troyes version, banks of seating are discernible in the background. As his explorations advanced, though, Delaunay progressively flattened and schematized the composition, juxtaposing objective, figural elements with passages of pure, non-naturalistic color. In the present version, rounded shapes play against the patchwork grid of the background, while alternating light and dark areas, as in a collage, catalyze a physical sensation of motion within the viewer that manifests the vitality of the Coureurs theme.

Delaunay’s visionary art is housed today in major museums around the world, including the Musée d’art moderne de la Ville de Paris; the Musée de Grenoble; the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum; and The Museum of Modern Art, New York, among others.

Lot Essay Header Image: Present lot illustrated (detail).

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