With his friend and fellow artist, Stanton MacDonald-Wright, Morgan Russell embarked in 1912 on a series of modernist paintings investigating pure color and form. Based on analytic cubism, the works consisted of geometric shapes painted in the primary and secondary colors blue, yellow, red, green, orange and purple. They called their paintings Synchromies, and established with these works one of the landmarks of early American modernism.
Russell exhibited his Synchromist art for the first time in 1913, when he showed his Synchromy in Green at the Salon des Indépendants in Paris. As noted by Marilyn Kushner, "a review in the New York Times of the Salon stated that while there was not much work in the exhibition by Americans, what was there was strong. Russell was singled out especially: 'An astonishing "Synchronic in Green," a composition in the strongest possible tones, is shown by Morgan Russell of New York.'" (as quoted in Morgan Russell, New York, 1990, p.67)
The artist's success continued that year with an exhibition in Munich, Germany, at the New Art Salon in June, followed by another in Paris at the Bernheim-Jeune Gallery in the autumn. At the Paris debut for Synchromism, the artist achieved acclaim. He wrote to his benefactor, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, that "our exhibition was up to expectation--biggest and most seriously attended since Futurists of two years ago and while naturally a joke in some circles was accepted as the most important in leading circles." In addition, Russell's friend, the critic Willard Wright, added that "the exhibition created a two-weeks' sensation." (Morgan Russell, p.68).
In the catalogue for the Paris show, Russell and MacDonald-Wright put forth the principle elements of Synchromism, specifically to move beyond the "literal likeness" of the subject in art to the depiction of form through color. "Our dream for color is of a nobler task," they wrote. "It is the very quality of form that we mean to express and reveal through it." (as quoted in Morgan Russell, p. 69)
To a large extent, Russell's paintings were based on the human figure, as in the recently rediscovered composition presented here, Synchromist Nude, making it one of the artist's earliest and most important Synchromist works discovered in recent years. As a highly finished painting of 1913, Synchromist Nude may well have been included in the Munich and Paris shows. It relates to studies sketched that year in his notebook, in which he included nudes depicted in various degrees of abstraction. Indeed, he based many of his Synchromist works of 1913 on the nude, as he did, for example, with his Still Life with Nude in Yellow at the San Diego Museum of Art, San Diego, California.
Synchromist Nude exemplifies the best of Russell's first Synchromist creations which placed him at the forefront of modernist developments. As noted by Kushner: "Russell's art of 1911-15 is at the heart of the modernist drive toward an abstracting kind of painting based on the physical and emotional qualities of color. As such, he must be accorded a position as one of the true pioneers in the development of abstract art."(Morgan Russell, p. 19)