Synchromism was an art movement founded in 1912 by American artists Stanton MacDonald-Wright (1890-1973) and Morgan Russell (1886-1953). Their abstract “synchromies,” based on an approach to painting that analogized color to music, were among the first abstract paintings in American art. Though it was short-lived and did not attract many adherents, Synchromism became the first American avant-garde art movement to receive international attention. One of the difficulties inherent in describing Synchromism as a coherent style is connected to the fact that some Synchromist works are purely abstract while others include representational imagery.
Theory and style
Synchromism is based on the idea that color and sound are similar phenomena and that the colors in a painting can be orchestrated in the same harmonious way that a composer arranges notes in a symphony. Macdonald-Wright and Russell believed that, by painting in color scales, their visual work could evoke the same complex sensations as music. As Macdonald-Wright said,”Synchromism simply means ‘with color’ as symphony means ‘with sound.'” The phenomenon of “hearing” a color or the pairing of two or more senses–synesthesia—was also central to the work of Wassily Kandinsky, who was developing his own synesthetic paintings, or “compositions,” in Europe at approximately the same time.
The abstract “synchromies” are based on color scales, using rhythmic color forms with advancing and reducing hues. They typically have a central vortex and explode in complex color harmonies. The Synchromists avoided using atmospheric perspective or line, relying solely on color and shape to express form. Macdonald-Wright and Russell were among a number of avant-garde artists at work in the period immediately before World War I who believed that realism in the visual arts had long since reached a point of exhaustion and that, to be meaningful in the modern world, painting needed to sever any ties to older ideas about perspective and to literary or anecdotal content.
The earliest Synchromist works were similar to Fauvist paintings. The multi-colored shapes of Synchromist paintings also loosely resembled those found in the Orphism of Robert and Sonia Delaunay. MacDonald-Wright insisted, however, that Synchromism was a unique art form and “has nothing to do with Orphism and anybody who has read the first catalogue of Synchromism… would realize that we poked fun at Orphism.” The Synchromists’ debts to Orphism remain a source of debate among art historians. Their approach more clearly owed something to Cubism. The Synchromists made use of the broken planes of the Cubists, but their lavishly colored areas of paint sometimes looked, as the art historian Abraham Davidson has described them, like “eddies of mist, the droplets of which collect to form parts of a straining torso….To find anything like this in American painting one has to wait for the color-field canvases of Jules Olitski in the 1960s.”
Synchromism was developed by Stanton MacDonald-Wright and Morgan Russell while they were studying in Paris during the early 1910s. In 1907, Stanton MacDonald-Wright studied with optical scientists such as Michel-Eugene Chevreul, Hermann von Helmholtz, and Ogdon Rood in order to further develop color theory influenced by musical harmonies. Then from 1911 to 1913, they both studied under the Canadian painter Percyval Tudor-Hart, whose color theory connected qualities of color to qualities of music, such as tone to hue and intensity to saturation. Also influential upon MacDonald-Wright and Russell were the paintings of the Impressionists, such as Cézanne and Matisse, along with the Cubists, which heavily emphasized color over drawing. In addition to the Cubists and Impressionists, MacDonald-Wright and Russell were also inspired by artists such as Emile Bernard, who was a Cloisonnist, and the Synthetist Paul Gauguin for their unique explorations of the properties and effects of color. Russell coined the term “Synchromism” in 1912, in an express attempt to convey the linkage of painting and music.
The first Synchromist painting, Russell’s Synchromy in Green, exhibited at the Paris Salon des Indépendants in 1913. Later that year, the first Synchromist exhibition by Macdonald-Wright and Russell was shown in Munich. Exhibitions followed in Paris in October 1913 and in New York in March 1914. Macdonald-Wright moved back to the United States in 1914, but he and Russell continued separately to paint abstract synchromies. Synchromism remained influential among artists well into the 1920s, though its purely abstract period was relatively brief. Many synchromies of the late 1910s and 1920s contain representational elements. At no time, though, did Macdonald-Wright or Russell achieve the level of critical or commercial success they had hoped for when they introduced Synchromism to the United States. It was not until after Russell’s death and late in Macdonald-Wright’s life that extensive museum and scholarly attention was paid to their highly original achievements. Other American painters who experimented with Synchromism include Thomas Hart Benton (1889-1975), Andrew Dasburg (1887-1979), Patrick Henry Bruce (1880-1936), and Albert Henry Krehbiel (1873-1945).
The earliest extended discussion of Synchromism appeared in the book Modern Painting: Its Tendency and Meaning (1915) by Willard Huntington Wright. Wright was a literary editor and art critic and the brother of Stanton Macdonald-Wright, and the book was secretly co-authored by Stanton. It surveyed the major modern art movements from Manet to Cubism, praised the work of Cézanne (at the time relatively unknown in the United States), denigrated “lesser Moderns” such as Kandinsky and the Futurists (and, of course, the Orphists), and predicted a coming age in which color abstraction would supplant representational art. Synchromism is presented in the book as the culminating point in the evolution of modernism. Willard Huntington Wright never acknowledged that he was writing about his own brother’s work.
Three other extended treatments of Synchromism can be found in the catalogue by Gail Levin that accompanied a major traveling exhibition organized the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1978, Synchromism and American Color Abstraction, 1910-1925, in Marilyn Kushner’s catalogue for a 1990 Morgan Russell retrospective at the Montclair Museum, and in Color, Myth, and Music: Stanton Macdonald-Wright and Synchromism by Will South, a catalogue-biography published in conjunction with a three-museum exhibition of the artist’s work in 2001. Levin and South are the two art historians most responsible for attracting scholarly and public attention to Synchromism, a movement that has often occupied a minor place in twentieth-century art-history textbooks.
In the tandem of Russell and McDonald-Wright, the leading artist played the leading role. He was older than his associate for three years, had a full art education. McDonald-Wright always appreciated Russell and initially tried to imitate him, while, however, without losing his individuality. Young artists were united by the desire for creative independence, individuality. Both – both Russell and McDonald-Wright – have established themselves as talented colorists. The skills acquired in this sphere allowed them to even depict the darkest scenes in color.
Deeply impressed with Paul Cézanne’s canvases, the synchromists dedicated a considerable number of their works to individual interpretations of his paintings. and Russell, in addition, was fond of sculpture and aircraft modeling, which also affected his artwork. A vivid example of this can serve as a picture of “Synchromy in Orange: To Form”, in which the artist depicted a heap of spiraling aircraft. In the details of this canvas there is a close connection with the famous sculpture by Michelangelo ” The Dying Slave (English) Russian. “, The forms of which Russell took as the starting point in the work on the creation of” Synchromy… “. Paintings and McDonald Wright similarly painted. However, in the styles of work of synchro artists there were significant differences: Russell was a less delicate colorist than his associate, and preferred more monolithic designs. Even to the harmony of light and form that the synchromist was originally trying to achieve, each of the artists came in his own way: if Russell “came” to the form through color, then McDonald-Wright, on the contrary, to the light through the form.
For the first time the work of synchromists was exhibited in 1913 in Paris. At this exhibition the scandalous success was the work of Russell “Synchromy in the Green” (not preserved) – the first picture made in the genre of synchromism. Subsequently synchronic paintings appeared also in the exposition of the Salon of Independent, in June 1913 they exhibited at Der Neue Kunstsalon in Munich. After the third exhibition, Russell and McDonald-Wright published a manifesto of synchronicity, in which they reflected their views on painting,
In 1914, the first solo exhibition of synchromists was held in New York. She made a big stir: the reporter of one of the local newspapers described what he saw as “the last attack on the optic nerves,” noting the complexity of perception and understanding of synchronic canvases, as well as their congestion with the works of Cubists and Fauves. After this, McDonald-Wright finally moved from Europe to the United States and began developing a theory of color scheme based on the musical scale.
In practice, synchrism has exhausted itself by 1916, and without causing much interest in Europe. The reason was his defeat in a close race with Orphism – the direction in contemporary art created by the spouses Robert and Sonia Delaunay, and existed in 1911 -1914 years in France. For most of the signs, these two artistic trends showed an absolute identity – the main difference was that synchromism was closer to Futurism than to Cubism, and Orphism – on the contrary. Sami McDonald-Wright and Russell in their manifesto observed that Orphism, in their opinion, was less “weighty” and “too decorative”, which made it different from synchromism.
In 1918, McDonald-Wright moved from New York to Los Angeles, after which he stopped calling himself synchromist. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, he continued to paint, experimenting with color and shapes, inventing new color solutions, eventually becoming one of California ‘s most distinguished contemporary artists. Experience gained in the years of being a synchromist, McDonald-Wright used, giving lectures to participants of the Student League of Art in Los Angeles, which the artist headed in 1922.
Morgan Russell, before moving to France, studied in New York with Robert Henry. Upon his arrival in Paris, he, long before the finalization of synchromism, took as a basis for the future direction the methods used by the Impressionists, mainly inspired by Manet and Matisse, whom Russell knew personally. The young artist was attracted by the color solutions used by the Impressionists, in particular, the color symbolism (the shadow was always depicted in purple, the light in yellow).
The McDonald-Wright concept
Stanton McDonald-Wright, who visited several art academies in his homeland, and, having become disillusioned, moved to Paris, as well as Russell, was inspired by paintings of Impressionist representatives – Renoir, Curbet, Cezanne. And not received a full education, this artist was interested, in the first place, the technical side of painting. McDonald-Wright attracted pure colors, experimenting with color and light. He, unlike Russell, was stranger to the infinite alternation of small fragments of light and shadow, often found in the paintings of the Impressionists.
Despite the lack of demand in Europe, synchrism in the US has nevertheless achieved a certain popularity: many outstanding American artists such as Arthur Bowen Davis, Arthur Beecher Carles (English) Russian. and Thomas Garth Benton, joined the synchronic exhibitions; a number of well-known authors, including Morton Schamberg (English) Russian., Charles Sheler, Patrick Henry Bruce, Andrew Dasburg (English) Russian. and Stuart Davis, experienced a short-term influence of this direction, creating a series of canvases in a synchronic manner. Many artists have further developed their models of color abstraction, based on the experience of Russell and McDonald-Wright.
In his book “Modern painting: its tendency and meaning”, the well-known art critic and art critic Williard Huntington Wright, better known by the pseudonym Steven Van Dine, called synchromism “the highest achievement of Western art since the Renaissance”, comparing the work of Russell and McDonald- Wright, who was his brother, with the canvases of Delacroix, Cezanne, Turner and even Rubens.
Source from Wikipedia