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

Composición constructiva en planos y figuras

Joaquín Torres-García (Uruguayan 1874-1949)
Composición constructiva en planos y figuras
signed 'J. Torres-GARCÍA' (lower left) and dated '31' (lower right) and inscribed 'MP' (after the artist's wife, Manolita Piña, upper center)
oil on canvas
23½ x 19 in. (59.7 x 48.3 cm.)
Painted in 1931.
Estate of the artist, no. 526.
Rose Fried Gallery, New York (1959).
Private collection, Washington D.C.
Private collection, Caracas.
Acquired from the above.
Exhibition catalogue, Art of the Americas in Washington Private Collections, Tribute to the Arts of the Americas, Washington D.C., Art Museum of the Americas, OAS, 1974 (illustrated).
Venice, XXVIII Exposition Biennale Internationale des Beux Arts, 1956, no. 8.
Washington D.C., Art Museum of the Americas, OAS, Art of the Americas in Washington Private Collections, Tribute to the Arts of the Americas, 15 March- 7 April 1974.

Lot Essay

We are grateful to Mrs. Cecilia de Torres for her assistance in confirming the authenticity of this work; to be included in the forthcoming Catalogue raisonné of the artist under archive number P1931.65. This work is sold with a certificate of authenticity signed by Cecilia de Torres and dated 6 May 2009.

"As the painter Torres-García says, we must live within the universal,"(1) Theo van Doesburg wrote in 1929 of his friend, with whom he shared a commitment to the Neo-Plastic vision of a timeless and universal art. Working in the international milieu of Paris between 1926 and 1932, Torres-García sought to translate an invisible, metaphysical order in paintings symbolically structured to embody an ideal harmony within the universe. Like van Doesburg and Piet Mondrian, Torres-García defined his mature pictorial language around the grid, whose linear and spatial relationships posited the oppositional relationships of the cosmos--male and female, material and spiritual, active and passive--in dynamic and creative equilibrium. Neo-Plasticism offered the meticulous purity and spiritual transcendence that Torres-García sought, but by the end of 1930 he no longer believed that pure abstraction adequately expressed the humanist values that could positively reconnect modern art to its ancestral and universal past.

Amid the tremendous interest in primitive art in Paris during the 1920s, Torres-García began to recognize affinities between aspects of pre-Columbian art and avant-garde European abstraction. His awareness of New World art dates at least to 1928, the year of a major exhibition, Ancient Art of the Americas, held at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris; and he quickly recognized the importance of the pre-Columbian artistic tradition and its relevance for a modern, international and universal art. The introduction of schematic, representational motifs into the gridded spaces of his abstractions within the next few years, as in the present work, marks the beginnings of a new, integral aesthetic that he would promote as Universal Constructivism following his return to Uruguay in 1934. Himself a child of the New World, born to a Spanish father and a Uruguayan mother, Torres-García drew parallel inspiration from the cultural inheritance of both Europe and the Americas. His synthesis of archetypal motifs and ancient hieroglyphs with the formal values of modernism would catalyze the development of modernism in Latin America and illuminate the magnitude of native, pan-American sources of inspiration.

This cosmopolitan and synthetic vocabulary of forms is rendered with great subtlety and clarity in the present Constructivist Composition. Torres-García's repertory of symbols was well established by 1930-31, and here each ideogram is precisely ordered within shallow rectangular subdivisions, painted in resonant primary colors and designed to convey the artist's worldview. As Valerie Fletcher has explained, "A ship can suggest the idea of exploration and discovery, the process of traveling from one place or consciousness to another--ranging from specific interpretations, such as Torres-García's own voyages between Europe and the Americas, to the metaphoric 'voyage of life.'"(2) Torres-García chose to affix his signature to the sailing vessel in the present work, according it special importance; and its proximity within the slate-blue register to the anchors and compass, suggestive of stability and purposeful orientation, insinuates both a physical and metaphysical course. A microcosm of universal order, the painting projects a holistic effect of transcendence, achieved through the interaction of different temporalities of being and of consciousness. The humanist integration of figurative motifs against the abstraction of the grid embodies the interface between these differing layers of reality, giving a timeless expression of cosmic order, unity, and harmony.

1) T. Van Doesburg, "Torres-García's Planism," Torres-García: Grid-Pattern-Sign, Paris-Montevideo, 1924-1944, London, Arts Council of Great Britain, 1985, 101.
2) V. Fletcher, Crosscurrents of Modernism: Four Latin American Pioneers, Diego Rivera, Joaquín Torres-García, Wifredo Lam, Matta, Washington, D.C., Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, 1992, 115.

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