ROBERT DELAUNAY AND THE EMERGENCE
OF ABSTRACTION IN GERMAN ART, 1910-1920
Although Cubist paintings by Braque, Picasso, Le Fauconnier and Metzinger were shown extensively in Düsseldorf, Cologne, Berlin and Munich, and caused a great stir among German artists, their influence was less pervasive than it was elsewhere in Europe. The Expressionist artists of Die Brücke in Berlin had earlier absorbed the example of van Gogh, Gauguin and Fauvism, but their temperamental inclination towards primitivism and subjective emotionalism made them less receptive to the intellectual discipline and formal structures of analytical Cubism, even if both movements had several common sources, such as their interest in tribal art.
The artists of Der Blaue Reiter in Munich, however, felt a greater attraction to Cubism. The second exhibition of the Neue Kunstlervereinigung, which opened in Munich in 1910, was the first major international exhibition of the European avant-garde, and the works of Picasso, Braque, Derain, Le Fauconnier and Vlaminck made a powerful impression. Articles on Cubism appeared in Der Blaue Reiter almanac (see sale, Christie's, New York, American and Modern Prints and Illustrated Books, Nov. 6, 1996, lot 152); indeed, August Macke made his first Cubist drawings after seeing an illustration in the almanac of Picasso's Femme à la guitare assise au piano, 1911. (C. Zervos, vol. II, no. 237; coll. Národnie Galerie, Prague)
Nevertheless, Der Blaue Reiter artists rejected the theoretical and non-sensual element in Cubism, and were dissatisfied with the restrained and somber use of color in the paintings of Braque and Picasso. Over the course of the next several years, the paintings of Robert Delaunay emerged as a significant catalyst in Der Blaue Reiter circles. One of the second wave of French Cubists, Delaunay had his own ideas about the implications of the work of Cézanne, Braque and Picasso, and his paintings met with an enthusiastic reception, such as had previously eluded the work of the pioneering Cubists.
Whereas Picasso and Braque in the early stages of Cubism had been attracted to the structural element in Cézanne's painting, Delaunay was drawn to the late master's achievements as a colorist, which were formulated in Impressionism. Delaunay's use of color in his first important series of paintings, the Gothic interiors of the cathedral of St.-Severin, done in 1909, is still subdued and limited in range. One version was purchased by Adolf Erbslöh, and was reproduced in Der Blaue Reiter almanac. In the series of Eiffel Tower paintings, done in the following year, Delaunay began to experiment with overlapping, transparent planes of pure color, resulting in the ground-breaking series of Fenêtres, 1910-1912, abstract views of the city seen through open windows, in which no objects are discernible.
In his essay Sur le lumière, Delaunay postulated that depth is the fundamental aspect of physical reality as perceived by the eye, and stated that the rhythmic simultaneity of light creates a sense of depth. This may be expressed in painting by the use of harmony and rhythm in color. He equated painting, based on the transparency of color, with musical tones. Delaunay's friend, the poet Guillaume Apollinaire, dubbed the term 'Orphism' for his use of pure, prismatic color. Derived from Orpheus, the ill-fated poet and singer of Greek mythology who traveled to the underworld to retrieve his beloved Eurydice, the term was also meant to suggest a striving for an unconscious and irrational experience by which the visible world is transformed into a lyrical creation.
These ideas soon led Delaunay into the uncharted territory of non-objective painting. In 1912 he painted Le premier disque (formerly in the collection of Burton and Emily Tremaine; sale, Christie's, New York, Nov. 5, 1991, lot 18) beginning a series of completely non-referential paintings, the first seen in Paris, which consisted of hard-edged, evenly-spaced, concentric rings quartered precisely on perpendicular vertical and horizontal axes. Delaunay later wrote:
You see: totality, ensemble of colors, opposing each other by complementarity; the others, in the center, in dissonance. I use a musical word. The experience was conclusive. No more fruit dish, no Eiffel Tower, no more streets, no more exterior views... No more copying from nature. Instead only abstract painting in color. (ed. A.A. Cohen, The New Art of Color: The Writings of Robert and Sonia Delaunay, New York, 1978, pp. 35-36)
Delaunay's preoccupation with non-objective painting was brief, for in 1913 he returned to the interpretation of subject matter, and the bodies of footballers in motion are clearly readable in his L'équipe de Cardiff (coll. Musée National d'Art Moderne, Paris).
Delaunay's non-objective paintings, and even more importantly, his theories behind them, had a profound impact on young Der Blaue Reiter artists Paul Klee, August Macke and Franz Marc. Delaunay's paintings were frequently exhibited in Germany. Two pictures from the Fenêtres series were included in the first Der Blaue Reiter exhibition in Munich in the winter of 1911-1912, which subsequently toured Germany, and one was illustrated in the almanac. In 1912 Klee, Macke and Marc individually visited Delaunay in Paris. Klee translated Delaunay's Sur le lumière into German, which was published in Der Sturm. In January, 1913, Delaunay and Apollinaire traveled to Berlin to attend an exhibition of the artist's work at Herwarth Walden's Der Sturm gallery.
The following eight lots are from the collection of Henry M. Reed, who has long held an interest in the work of Delaunay and his influence on European and American artists.
Property from the Collection of
HENRY M. REED