A. Varichon, Albert Gleizes, Catalogue raisonné, vol. I, Paris, 1998, no. 653 (illustrated p. 229).
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York (no. FN.38.482), by whom acquired from the artist in 1938; sale, Sotheby's, New York, 2 July 1974, lot 79.
Ifor Davies, London; sale, Christie's, London, 26 June 2002, lot 178.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
PROPERTY FROM A PRIVATE EUROPEAN COLLECTION
Gleizes' arrival in New York in September 1915 followed a period of immense upheaval both in his life and in his art. His early impressionistic style had given way to experiments in geometric cubism; these in turn evolved into multiple viewpoints, which ultimately gave way to flat surfaces, as we see in the skyline of New York.
Gleizes' initial reaction to the city of New York - a city of spectacular height and volume - was extreme. To Gleizes, New York was the new world and provided a striking contrast to Europe, a continent still torn apart by war. Gleizes saw the sky-scrapers of New York as the new Cathedrals of Europe and recoiled from the overwhelming scale of American architecture: 'Bientôt l'insolence du sky-scraper dépassera la noblesse de leurs flèches. La grande parole altruiste s'éteignait sous les voix rauques des égoïsmes les plus étriqués' (Gleizes, quoted in exh. cat., Albert Gleizes, Le cubisme en majesté, Paris, 2001, p. 149). And yet Gleizes recognised and praised the superlative technical and artistic achievements embodied in these architectural giants: 'Les sky-scrapers sont des oeuvres d'art. Ce sont des créations d'acier et de pierre qui égalent les créations les plus admirées du Vieux Monde' (loc. cit.).
Gleizes' ambivalence towards New York is clear in the present work. He incorporates the overwhelming scale of the city, with its crowded sky-scrapers disappearing off the top and sides of the canvas, but also hints at a feeling of instability, with many of the buildings tilted at precarious angles. Gleizes captures this instability in his book Dieu nouveau: 'Les lignes verticales ont le vertige et fléchissent en s'élevant, des plans entiers tombent à la renverse et s'arrêtent tout à coup soutenus par d'autres plans qui tombaient en avant' (Gleizes, quoted in A. Varichon, op. cit., p. 216).
Echoing his writings, in which he unflatteringly describes Broadway as 'le coeur de l'Amérique, un coeur futile et dur, sentimental et sec' (Gleizes, quoted in exh. cat., Albert Gleizes, Le cubisme en majeste, Paris, 2001, p. 150), the deep shadows and vibrant neon at the heart of the painting seem to illustrate both his fascination and aversion to American culture. Gleizes is certainly attracted by the excitement and pace of life in New York and, just as we see his conflicting views of sky-scrapers, we also see his excitement, in spite of himself, at the intensity and speed of life on Broadway, describing it as a 'fantastique fleuve aux mille courants se contrariant, s'enchevêtrant' (loc. cit.). Gleizes was also irresistibly drawn to jazz music, a proliferating art form which seems to encapsulate the atmosphere of New York at this time: 'cette musique extraordinaire qui nous prend dans son tohu-bohu, qui nous berce sentimentalement un moment, s'arrête subitement pour vous fracasser avec une dégelée de sons et de cris rauques, aigus, tendres, qui vous entraîne dans un tourbillon insensé auquel il est impossible d'échapper' (loc. cit.).
New York is an exciting, vivid depiction of a city which at once delighted, enthralled, surprised and repelled the artist. Of the differing versions of this motif, all created in 1915-1916, the present work is the largest and certainly the most vibrant, presenting a timeless image of neon and steel, of scale and tumult that perfectly represents the heart of New York.
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