Details & Cataloguing

The Collection of A. Alfred Taubman: American Art

New York

Stanton Macdonald-Wright 1890 - 1973
Signed S. Wright (upper left); also signed, titled and dated S. Wright, Embarkation, 1962 and inscribed with Japanese characters on the reverse
Oil on panel
48 1/4 by 36 1/8 inches
(122.6 by 91.8 cm)
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Rose Fried Gallery, New York
Mr. & Mrs. Walter Nelson Pharr (acquired from the above)
Museum of Modern Art, 1965 (gift from the above and sold: Sotheby's, New York, December 4, 2013, lot 27, illustrated)
Acquired at the above sale by A. Alfred Taubman


New York, Rose Fried Gallery, Stanton Macdonald-Wright, February 1965, no. 9

Catalogue Note

Meaning “with color,” Synchromism was jointly founded in 1913 by Stanton Macdonald-Wright and Morgan Russell. As these American painters were its only official practitioners, Synchromism existed as a formal movement for only a little more than a year and was ultimately overshadowed by the better-known Orphism—a form of cubism based on color—led by Robert and Sonia Delaunay. Through his writings and paintings, however, Macdonald-Wright contributed immensely to the dialogue on abstraction during the first decades of the 20th century. Painted in 1962, Embarkation is a vibrant example of Macdonald-Wright’s mature work, and exemplifies the Synchromist consideration of color as the fundamental means of expression.

After experimenting with a more diverse aesthetic range for much of the 1930s and 1940s, Macdonald-Wright returned to painting in the classically Synchromist style with renewed fervor in 1954. He spoke excitedly of his new work that year, saying, "I had naturally...conceived of a characteristic type of expression when I was twenty-one, and now found that that former expression was still characteristic of me, that's all. I am now painting the same kind of pictures I painted at my earliest period—better I trust—at least they look better to me" (Will South, Color, Myth, and Music: Stanton Macdonald-Wright and Synchromism, Raleigh, North Carolina, 2001, p. 153). Often executed in large-scale, these paintings reflect a strict observance to the color scales that had been the foundation of his work in Paris: just as several notes were needed to create a harmonious chord in music, Macdonald-Wright believed he could combine and arrange varying hues of color to create a visually harmonious image. In Embarkation, color becomes the basis of the composition, and informs the artist’s approach to form and line. Pushing his Synchromist theories further, Macdonald-Wright also chose to give his paintings more conceptual titles, likely to ensure they were free from all representative associations.

Although these ideas were central to his earlier work, Macdonald-Wright believed his mature achievement of an “interior realism” differentiated his later pictures. The artist explained this transformation by saying: “This is a sense of reality which cannot be seen but which is evident by feeling, and I am certain that this hidden reality was what I felt to be lacking in my younger days. This quality can be created neither by intellectual means nor by the will. It is necessary that the artist be ‘taken over’ by an all-encompassing idea…that is to say that the artist must entirely ‘become’ that which he paints” (Ibid., p. 153).

The Collection of A. Alfred Taubman: American Art

New York