The present lot Courbes shows the artists newly found preference, which started in the autumn of 1937, by showing more dynamic forms and bent lines. Vantongerloo wanted to dismiss overly calculated forms, in favour of lyrical and playful shapes. The main aim was to step away from previous efforts by abstract artists who believed in a solely rational utopia. This development marks the moment when Vantongerloo would give free reign to his original principles, as expressed in his Reflexions of 20 years earlier. Lines form the expression of energy. "I noticed in my work that the lines, planes, volumes, performed a function, an this led me to see that solid bodies are not restricted to their volumes, but that they are energies".
(G. Vantongerloo quoted in Max Bill, ''An intimate biography by Georges Vantongerloo'', in : Georges Vantongerloo, A travelling Retrospective Exhibition, Washington, Dallas, Los Angeles 1980, p. 23)
Belgian sculptor and painter Georges Vantongerloo trained at the Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp (1900-1904) and at the Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts in Brussels (1906-1909). During World War I he moved to The Hague as a refugee, together with his brother, the artist Frans Vantongerloo. In The Hague Vantongerloo would meet his future wife and model Tine Kalis.
In 1918 Vantongerloo visited Theo van Doesburg, who would publish articles by Vantongerloo in issues of De Stijl magazine until 1920. In these articles the artist formulated theories about art and the role of the artist. They reveal his absolute belief in abstraction and a predilection for mystic and scientific theories and concepts. After visiting Piet Mondriaan in Paris in 1920, Vantongerloo travelled on to Menton in southern France to live there. In the dispute between Van Doesburg and Mondriaan about using the diagonal, Vantongerloo chose Mondriaans side. The Vantongerloos would stay close friends to Mondriaan in the 1920s and regularly stayed with him when travelling to Holland and Belgium. In Menton Vantongerloo would develop a colour theory in which the three primary colours favoured by De Stijl artists were exchanged for the seven main colours of the spectrum. Mathematical formulas and equations played an increasingly important part in his work. Around this time Vantongerloo began designing interiors, furniture and ceramics, as well as utopian architectural projects. According to Vantongerloo art, science and society should form a homogeneous social unit, where everyone's contribution would be of benefit to the society.
After moving to Paris in 1928 Vantongerloo became a driving force behind the movements Cercle et Carré (1930) and Abstraction-Création (1931-1936). These movements united abstract artists with diverse theoretical backgrounds. It was his purpose to create a platform for abstract art by organising group exhibitions, lectures, debates and publications. The group would be the centre for artists of constructivist and geometrical abstract art, like Piet Mondriaan, Jean Arp, Auguste Herbin, Albert Gleizes, Marlow Moss, Friedrich Vordemberge-Gildewart and Theo van Doesburg.
An extensive correspondence with Jean Gorin in 1926-27 would result in the idea that the surface of the painting can be seen as a sanctuary, with space for theorizing, using mathematics, parabolas, quadratic equations and algebraic formulas, but where in the end, in the process of making, the hand and the intuition of the artist are crucial. Although Vantongerloo gradually distanced himself from De Stijl, he remained true to most of its principles. It was not until 1937 that dramatic changes occurred in his paintings: his reliance on a rectilinear grid was replaced by rounded forms, curves against a white background, softening the severe character of his compositions. Whereas in the past the artist used a measurable concept of unity that was being realised by arranging the plane geometrically and determining the white and coloured planes scientifically, unity now becomes immense and immeasurable.
Vantongerloo's activitivies in the 1920s where mostly of a utopian and theoretical nature and only from 1929 on would he be able to produce paintings and sculptures. Between 1929 and 1936 he would make 4 to 5 paintings each year. From 1937 to 1945 Vantongerloo produced only paintings. When he took up sculpture again, his compositions became progressively more playful. In this period he favoured such modern materials as perspex and plastic. In Paris he was apparently able to find a mode between his boundless ideas, the endless theorizing and actually producing works which would make him contribute to exhibitions and join the debate on modern art.
This process has been illustrated by the lively correspondence between Vantongerloo and his friend and fellow artist Max Bill. Bill helped Vantongerloo during the war and the years after, by providing him with supplies and, more importantly, places to exhibit his work. Besides these practical matters, Vantongerloo found a fellow artist in Bill, someone to share his specific ideas and plans related to their work. Vantongerloo would not have received international acclaim without Bill, who introduced him to many museums and collectors.
Courbes has been part of a retrospective at the Marlborough Gallery in London in 1962, a long awaited turnaround in the positive appreciation of Vantongerloo's work. In a letter to Bill he writes ''It will all be okay before I die, that is a major comfort". (In a letter from Vantongerloo to Max Bill, 6 October 1961). Vantongerloos work can now be found in the major modern art museums in Europe and America.
Although the artist was only associated with De Stijl for a short period, the mutual influence between Vantongerloo, Piet Mondriaan and Theo van Doesburg cannot be denied. It resulted in an ever intriguing oeuvre.