Georges Vantongerloo (1886-1965)
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more ABSTRACTION BEYOND BORDERS: WORKS FROM A DISTINGUISHED PRIVATE EUROPEAN COLLECTIONFrom Paris to Munich, Berlin, Milan and Hanover, in the opening decades of the Twentieth Century, a number of artists created art that radically differed from those of their predecessors. Working across Europe, these pioneering provocateurs, radicals and trailblazers – Georges Braque, Francis Picabia, František Kupka, to name just a few – shunned the last vestiges of illusionism to instead create unprecedented works with no visible, recognisable or definable subject matter. Liberating colour, line and form from their centuries-old descriptive role, they overturned pictorial tradition, embarking on an abstract adventure that would come to define art of the Twentieth Century. Crossing geographical boundaries, encompassing a variety of media, and often blurring traditional distinctions of painting and sculpture, abstraction spread with an extraordinary speed, transforming artistic practice forever. From the initial steps towards a new artistic language, to the paradigmatic embodiment of this concept, this diverse group of works embodies this varied, experimental and groundbreaking path of abstraction, demonstrating the variety of ways that artists across the globe embraced this radical practice. Braque’s cubist composition, Cartes et cornet à dés presents the origin of this move towards a new, non-representational artistic language. Along with Picasso – the pair, ‘like mountain-climbers roped together’, as Braque recalled of this frenzied period of seismic innovation – the artist undermined conventional notions of perspective, opening the door to a whole new way of depicting the world. As rebellious as the cubists’ rejection of the centuries-old rules of representation, Picabia’s playful collage Sans titre (Pot de fleurs) uses the very materials of art making to parody the mimetic traditions of art, creating a semi-abstract play of colour and line. Far removed from any trace of the recognisable world, Kurt Schwitters’ rare Merz relief, Das Richard-Freitag-Bild dates from the height of his involvement with the International Constructivist movement. It was executed during a period when he was codifying Merz – the one-man art movement that he created in 1919 – into a utopian Constructivist language of form, taking the deconstruction of Dada and combining it with the aims of Constructivism. Following the same aesthetic, Georges Vantongerloo’s perfectly composed De Stijl composition embodies the tenets of geometric abstraction. In addition, Kupka, one of the leading pioneers of non-representational abstraction, is represented in this collection with a rare composition entitled Series C, III, Elevation, a work that marries his elegant abstract idiom with the deeper, spiritual dimension that was often the source of his abstractions. By contrast, Magritte, an artist whose unique form of Surrealism serves as the very antithesis to the development of non-representational abstraction, is represented in this group with an important early painting, Les signes du soir. A pictorial trompe l’oeil riddle, with this painting Magritte confuses, undermines and questions the entire nature of representational painting, paving the way for the conceptual art that dominated artistic production of the post-war era. From the purely formal – Schwitters and Vantongerloo – to the spiritual, mystic or surreal – Kupka, Jawlensky, Magritte and Picasso, this collection, assembled with the eye of an aesthete, encapsulates the multi-faceted nature and pioneering spirit of modernist abstraction throughout the Twentieth Century. Their curiosity, daring eclecticism and pioneering spirit of exploration nearly 100 years ago paved the way for artists and collectors today.
Georges Vantongerloo (1886-1965)

Composition émanante de l'équation y=-ax2+bx+18 avec accord de orangé, vert, violet

Georges Vantongerloo (1886-1965)
Composition émanante de l'équation y=-ax2+bx+18 avec accord de orangé, vert, violet
signed with the monogram (lower right); signed 'G. Vantongerloo' (on a piece of the original stretcher attached to the crossbrace)
oil on canvas
46 7/8 x 24 5/8 in. (119.1 x 62.5 cm.)
Painted in Paris in 1930
Sylvia Pizitz, New York, by 1962.
Galerie Tarica, Paris.
Hubertus Wald, Hamburg, by whom acquired from the above on 27 February 1973.
The Hubertus Wald Charitable Foundation, Hamburg; sale, Christie's, London, 7 February 2012, lot 7.
Galerie Gmurzynska, Zurich.
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
M. Seuphor, La peinture abstraite, Paris, 1962, no. 77, p. 317 (illustrated p. 66).
Exh. cat., Georges Vantongerloo, Bilder und Plastiken, Dusseldorf, 1971 (illustrated n.p.).
M. Seuphor, L'art abstrait 2, 1918-1938, Paris, 1972, no. 111, p. 233 (illustrated p. 195).
A. Z. Rudenstine, 'Georges Vantongerloo', in The Guggenheim Museum Collection, Paintings 1880-1945, vol. II, New York, 1976, p. 665 (illustrated; with incorrect ownership).
H. Bauer, ed., Die grosse Enzyklopädie der Malerei, vol. VIII, Freiburg, 1978, p. 2770 (illustrated vol. I, Freiburg, 1976, p. 4; with incorrect ownership).
Paris, Abstraction-Création, 1934.
Basel, Kunsthalle, konstruktivisten, January - February 1937, no. 60, p. 14 (titled 'composition: y=ax2+bx+c').
New York, Rose Fried Gallery, Group Exhibition, January 1951, no. 14, n.p.
New York, Rose Fried Gallery, Coincidences, January - February 1952, no. 20, n.p.
Buffalo, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Plus by Minus: Today's Half-Century, March - April 1968, no. 212, n.p. (illustrated; titled 'Composition with Accord of Orange, Gold, Green, Violet' and dated 'circa 1922').
Munster, Westfälisches Landesmuseum für Kunst und Kulturgeschichte, abstraction création, 1931-1936, April - June 1978, no. 1, p. 277 (illustrated p. 278; titled 'Komposition über die Gleichung y=ax2+bx+18'); this exhibition later travelled to Paris, Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, June - September 1978.
Zurich, Kunsthaus, Georges Vantongerloo: A Travelling Retrospective Exhibition, April - May 1981, no. 61, p. 54 (illustrated).
Paris, Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, L'art en Belgique, Flandre et Wallonie au XXe siècle, un point de vue, December 1990 - March 1991, no. 279, p. 524 (illustrated p. 178).
Hamburg, Kunsthalle, The Wald Collection: Showpieces of 20th Century Painting, September - November 2003, no. 42 (no catalogue).
Duisburg, Stiftung Wilhelm Lehmbruck Museum - Zentrum internationaler Skulptur, Für eine neue Welt: Georges Vantongerloo und seine Kreise von Mondrian bis Bill, October 2009 - January 2010, no. 69, pp. 118 & 281 (illustrated p. 118).
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Lot Essay

Angela Thomas Schmid has confirmed the authenticity of this work.

'I have no scientific knowledge. Only my wonder stimulates my curiosity' (Vantongerloo, quoted in G. Brett, 'A Longing for Infinity', in Georges Vantongerloo: A Longing for Infinity, exh. cat., Madrid, 2010, p. 30).

Painted in 1930, Composition émanante de l'équation y=-ax2+bx+18 avec accord de orangé, vert, violet elegantly encapsulates Georges Vantongerloo’s idiosyncratic approach to the ideals of the De Stijl movement, adopting a mathematically constructed rectilinear, grid-like composition to explore the inter-relationship of a carefully selected group of colours. Filled with a serene interplay of form and pigment, it is an important example of the growing complexity of Vantongerloo’s purist style of painting at the beginning of the 1930s, as he continued his search for a visual vocabulary made up of geometrical forms comprehensible to all and translatable to any discipline.

Although Vantongerloo arrived in Holland in 1914, a refugee from Belgium having been injured during the opening months of the First World War, it was not until almost four years later, in the spring of 1918, that he first made contact with the artists involved in De Stijl. The movement had been established in 1917 to advocate for an aesthetic and cultural revolution, one which would result in a new unity between life and art that could counteract the senseless destruction and violence of war. The works produced by members of De Stijl were driven by the belief that the synthesis of art, architecture and design offered a path to this new social utopia, and featured a common focus on pure geometric shapes, stark abstraction and primary colours. Approaching Theo van Doesburg with a view to publishing his essay ‘Science and Art’ in the group’s periodical, Vantongerloo quickly became absorbed into this radical group of thinkers, architects, painters and designers, marrying their theories and pioneering aesthetic with his own explorations in abstraction. Later that year, Vantongerloo published a series of articles titled ‘Réflections’ in the De Stijl journal, in which he outlined his theories about the role of the artist in modern society. These musings revealed his abiding belief in the power of abstraction to shape and alter the world, as well as a predilection for pseudo-scientific concepts.

Particularly influential for the young artist was the friendship he developed with Piet Mondrian at this time, whose writings on concrete art mirrored his own. While the extreme rigour of Mondrian’s aesthetic, its revolutionary approach to the abstract, universal relationship between form, line and colour, proved to be a crucial catalyst for the experiments of many young artists at the time, Vantongerloo’s personal relationship with the painter, whom he visited on numerous occasions at his studio, offered him a greater understanding of the unique principles of his brand of De Stijl. While there are obvious parallels between the two artists’ compositions, Vantongerloo employed a wider range of colour contrasts and relationships in his work, expanding on the strictly limited palette of Mondrian to include the seven main colours of the spectrum. In the present composition, he uses a variety of shades, from a block of bold yellow on the top left hand side, to a dark violet in the opposite corner, in order to interrupt the delicate white and grey squares that dominate the composition. These points of vibrant colour enliven the whole painting, imbuing it with a new visual energy, while the lack of thick, dark lines demarcating each of the rectangles allow a more direct interaction between the colours. Through this evolution, Vantongerloo began to push the boundaries of Mondrian’s aesthetic to new possibilities, exploring the manner in which subtle shifts in tone, hue and saturation altered the visual resonance of his paintings.

A complex mathematical language underpinned many of the artist’s works from this period, with their titles often taking the form of long and complex algebraic equations whose meanings remain beyond our comprehension, a combination of symbols and numbers held together by an internal mystery known only to the artist. Vantongerloo had studied mathematics as a young man in the Beaux-Arts academies of Antwerp and Brussels, and was intrigued by the direct application of its principles to the creation of art. By employing this crisp, quasi-scientific aesthetic, Vantongerloo believed he could reconfigure the building blocks of the way in which we see the world. As the 1920s had progressed, Vantongerloo began designing interiors, furniture and ceramics, as well as utopian architectural projects (villas, airports and bridges) along these principals. Although none of these architectural projects were ever realised, they offered Vantongerloo an important space in which to experiment with the integration of his theories into real life, and the manner in which they could affect and shape the way we experience the world.

Composition émanante de l'équation y=-ax2+bx+18 avec accord de l'orangé-vert-violet was formerly in the collection of Silvia Pizitz, an eminent American collector who acquired works by many of the artists associated with the Abstraction-Création group. Vantongerloo had been elected as the first vice-president of the group following its foundation in 1931, joining such luminaries as Josef Albers, Hans Arp, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy and Sophie Tauber-Arp in the movement. Pizitz, the daughter of the owner of a group of department stores primarily based in Birmingham, Alabama, accumulated a significant collection of revolutionary avant-garde art, and was subsequently instrumental in founding New York University's art collection, generously gifting works to it shortly after its inception.

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