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Modern Art

Synchronized Link Between European and American Modern Art

There was a very short-lived painting movement in 1912 to about 1916 started by two Americans living in Paris, it was called Synchromism (which means colors together, blended with the word symphony).

It was the first modern American art movement with organization, a manifesto, and a particularized aesthetic. The group had a huge impact on breaking down more traditional color theory in American art.

Started by Stanton Mcdonald Wright and Morgan Russell in June of 1913. They would exhibit their work in October of that same year in Germany but had been experimenting in similar techniques for several years prior. They also exhibited in New York in 1914 and 1916. The group was part of an overall effort to extend the work of the neo-impressionists, breaking down form and color further towards complete abstraction.

Synchromism, legacy-wise, has almost a direct link from impressionism, post-impressionism, neo-impressionism, and the Fauvists (1900 – 1910). It is this short-lived movement that seeded change in American Art towards a more modern evolution.  In addition to Stanton Wright and Russell, two other Americans in Europe were considered synchromists: Arthur Burdett Frost and Patrick Henry Bruce. These were both students of Henri Matisse (one of the great figures of modern art). Matisse was heavily influenced by Van Gogh, Gauguin, and his contact with the neo-impressionists, among others.

After Matisse and the neo-impressionists (Seurat, Signac); Picasso and Cubism became another influential painting style in Europe. Orphic Cubism was a cubist style painting with a more lyrical style content. The Orphic painter Robert Delaunay was an influence to the work of the synchromists, although the two styles could be said to have emerged at around the same time. Morgan Russell’s interest specifically in a fully color composition was found to exist prior to his meeting with Delaunay. Another influence was from 1911 to 1913, when the two (Wright and Russell) studied under the Canadian painter Percyval Tudor-Hart, who worked with color theory in relation to expressing aspects of music.

The relationship between painting teacher and student, brings me back to a common point I make about why I like Art history. Let me use the following metaphor. Sometimes in athletic sports there is a big thing about a coaching and playing legacy associated with team or school. For example at Kansas University the great basketball coach Phog Allen had Dean Smith as an assistant, he would become a North Carolina coaching legend. His assistant was Roy Williams, who coached at Kansas, on and on. Some of the style and knowledge of coaching becomes a kind of legacy associated with a time and place. So it is with famous painters and their mentors.

So Matisse was influenced by the post-impressionists and then the neo-impressionists for example. Matisse taught the two Americans Arthur Burdett Frost and Patrick Henry Bruce. American Thomas Hart Benton was also in Paris at this time experimenting with the group. Benton’s exaggerated human figures had roots in Macdonald-Wrights own fascination with the musculature of the human body. And of course Hart Benton would teach Pollack for a short time. So you can draw an evolutionary line from Matisse to Pollack. From one Jedi to the next one.

One perspective could be that these seeds planted by the synchromists, provided that link from Europe’s modernist styles of painting, into America. Seeds that would reach full fruition in the 1940’s and 50’s in New York. This is when the Abstract Expressionists (Jackson Pollack, William DeKooning) would force the shift of the center of the art world to New York, the first time in a long time it was not in Paris, France.

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