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Charles Green Shaw (1892-1974)
On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial int… Read more An American Place: The Barney A. Ebsworth Collection
Charles Green Shaw (1892-1974)

Untitled

Details
Charles Green Shaw (1892-1974)
Untitled
signed and dated 'Charles G. Shaw/1940' (on the reverse)
oil on canvasboard
30 x 22 in. (76.2 x 55.9 cm.)
Painted in 1940.
Provenance
The artist.
Estate of the above, 1974.
Charles H. Carpenter, Jr., New Canaan, Connecticut, by bequest from the above.
[With]Washburn Gallery, New York.
Acquired by the late owner from the above, 1976.
Exhibited
New York, Galerie St. Etienne, American Abstract Art, May 22-June 12, 1940, no. 50.
New York, The Century Club, Charles Shaw Memorial Exhibition, 1975.
New York, Washburn Gallery, Charles Shaw: Work from 1935-1942, December 2, 1975-January 10, 1976.
St. Louis, Missouri, St. Louis Art Museum; Honolulu, Hawaii, Honolulu Academy of Arts; Boston, Massachusetts, Museum of Fine Arts, The Ebsworth Collection: American Modernism 1911-1947, November 20, 1987-June 5, 1988, pp. 160-61, no. 58, illustrated.
New York, Grey Art Gallery; Andover, Massachusetts, Phillips Academy, Addison Gallery of American Art; Gainesville, Florida, University of Florida, Harn Museum of Art, The Park Avenue Cubists: Gallatin, Morris, Frelinghuysen and Shaw, January 14, 2003-November 30, 2003.
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Lot Essay

Heavily influenced by his studies in Paris in the early 1930s, Charles Green Shaw was an advocate for abstract art in America during a time when regionalism and figurative art held center stage. In a statement on his art, Shaw declared, “I begin with an idea and end with an idea. In between an involvement of forms both loses and finds itself. I believe that abstract art can express life without using life’s images and can create breath-taking beauty by the imaginative use of line and color” (C. Shaw, Charles Green Shaw papers, Archives of American Art, Washington, D.C.).

As a founding member of the American Abstract Artists (AAA), Shaw sought to infuse the American art scene with this avant-garde style inspired by European Modernism. He was also known as one of the “Park Avenue Cubists,” a small cohort of wealthy abstract artists from New York, including Albert Gallatin, George L.K. Morris and Suzy Frelinghuysen, who modeled their works after artists such as Pablo Picasso, Juan Gris, George Braque and Fernand Léger. Yet, despite his involvement with these groups, Shaw wrote, “I am not greatly interested in ‘movements’ or ‘schools’… it seems to me that if he has anything to say, an artist must essentially be himself and against ‘movements’” (C. Shaw, ibid).

Indeed, while inspired by European Modernists such as Piet Mondrian and Jean Arp, and working alongside a group of abstractionists in New York, Shaw developed his own individual approach combining Constructivist and Cubist principles into compelling experimentations with geometry and color. At times, as here, the works can be severely abstracted. In many, the polygonal shapes in primary colors he depicts are connected to the New York City skyline and moreover the principles of architecture, which Shaw studied at Columbia University. In the present work, the artist employs hues making the various planes of color seem to alternately recede or protrude from the rich, red ground. While the shapes are void of any modeling, thick textural application in the white rectangle adds a dimension of texture to the picture plane and evidences experimentation with material as well as compositional design. With thin wire-like lines extending from and connecting some of the forms, the composition also recalls the mobiles that Alexander Calder developed during the same period.

As noted in the introduction to a 1939 exhibition in which Shaw was included alongside Gallatin and Morris: “In their explorations among the structural and emotional possibilities of shape and color and tone, the abstract painters have persisted until they have gone a long way toward delivering the individual accent of our time” (C. Shaw, ibid). The present work embodies this bold exploration that made Shaw a visionary in the history of American abstract painting.

The previous owner of the present work, Charles H. Carpenter, Jr., was a prominent collector of post-War American Art, whose collection included artists such as Jackson Pollock, Claes Oldenberg, Ellsworth Kelly and Ad Reinhardt. A friend of the artist, Carpenter inherited many of Shaw’s works following the artist’s death in 1974.

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