Painted when the artist was only twenty-three, Landscape (A Tree Grows in Brooklyn)
, was executed during a year which saw significant developments in Man Ray’s artistic output. On February 17, 1913, The International Exhibition of Modern Art—known to posterity as the Armory Show—opened in New York. Exhibiting the work of the European avant-garde
in New York for the first time, including pieces by Duchamp, Brancusi and Matisse among others, the show exerted a profound influence on the young Man Ray. The artist later told Arturo Schwarz that the show acted on him as "an encouragement. All the contacts I made were to encourage me to pursue the way I had already chosen, to confirm my own intentions, as it were. I had a clear, firm will at the time. I knew what I wanted to do" (quoted in Arturo Schwarz, Man Ray, The Rigour of Imagination
, London, 1977, pp. 25-26).
Likely painted in Brooklyn where he was brought up, this canvas displays the influence of German Expressionism. The year 1913 also marked a turning-point for Man Ray in that he moved into his first studio in Ridgefield just outside New York. It was not long before Ridgefield became a magnet for artists and writers, including the poets William Carlos Williams and Alanson Hartpence. Of greater personal significance for Man Ray was his meeting with Adon Lacroix, who was to become his wife in 1914. The move acted as a creative spur for the artist, and as a result the works he created during this time are imbued with a newly assured confidence of handling and line. With its flattened planes and bold daubs of paint, Landscape (A Tree Grows in Brooklyn)
showcases these newfound stylistic tendencies to powerful effect.
The painting's alternate title, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, was coined by the artist himself upon revisiting the work at the Princeton Art Museum in 1963; the title refers to the eponymous novel by Betty Smith published in 1943 which was subsequently made into a popular movie.