This "Sketch for Coney Island" by Joseph Stella is one of several by the artist for his large and very important painting, Battle of Lights, Mardi Gras, Coney Island at the Yale University Art Gallery.
According to Dr. Irma Jaffe, this sketch must date to mid-1913, when "soon after the Armory Show" as Stella recorded, he began to work on hÿis "first American subject, Battle of Lights, Mardi Gras, Coney Island. The final painting was finished either at the end of 1913 or early in 1914 since it was exhibited in February 1914 at the Montross Gallery, so "after the Armory Show" must mean after it opened, since it didn't close in New York until March 1914.
The Sketch thus records the transitional moment in this artist's career when he ÿplunged from a conservative adaptation of Fauve painting into the risky torrent of modernism. Carlo De Fornaro claimed that his sketch for "Coney Island," which is now in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art, was the first sketch for the big painting, but Jaffe asserts that the sketch at hand strikes the present viewer as having been done earlier because it seems less developed than the MOMA work and more conservative.
The exuberance with which Stella set to work on "Battle of Lights" is fÿully evident in this lively, levitated image of the amusement park, like a fireworks picture suspended in the night sky. The final painting is, of course, a masterpiece of early American modernism, lending intense interest to all of the preparatory works that record Stella's struggle to enter the forbidding ranks of the avant-garde.