Moholy-Nagy left Nazi Germany with his English-born wife Sybil and their daughter Hattula in January 1934. They lived for the next several years in Amsterdam and London. In July 1937, Moholy-Nagy sailed to America in order to take up a teaching position at the newly-founded School of Industrial Design in Chicago, which was known as The New Bauhaus when it opened that fall. The artist's family joined him in America, but the school closed the following year because of financial difficulties. Moholy-Nagy and other faculty members, among them the Hungarian artist György Kepes, the Austrian graphic designer Herbert Bayer and the Ukrainian-born sculptor Alexander Archipenko, then decided to organize and finance their own School of Design. Their sponsors included the philosopher and educator John Dewey and the architect Walter Gropius, who was then teaching at Harvard. The School occupied a building at 247 East Ontario Street, on the Near North Side of Chicago. The first class of seven students who completed the four-year course graduated with Bachelor of Arts degrees in the spring of 1942. During the war the school operated a camouflage workshop.
Most of Moholy-Nagy's time was taken up in directing the School of Design, even after administrative control was given over to a Board of Directors led by Walter Paepcke in 1944, at which time the school was renamed the Institute of Design. The artist nevertheless continued to paint at night, often working from 10 pm to 1 am, and on Sundays, his only day away from the school. He experimented widely with new media and plastic supports (see lot 336). He continued to paint in oil on canvas--he could undertake compositions in large sizes, and this conventional medium and support were reliably permanent, posing none of the long-term risks inherent in the novel and untested materials he often employed.
The present painting is Moholy-Nagy's tribute to his adopted city. The partially colored ovoid shapes form the letter 'C', and the sunlit waters of Lake Michigan can be seen at right. The concentration of forms at left perhaps alludes to Chicago's downtown area, "The Loop", and the visual flow of forms from left to right reflects the city's historical role as a conduit of resources from the Midwestern plains to the eastern part of America. This painting was completed two years before Moholy-Nagy was diagnosed with leukemia, which caused his early death in 1946.