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About This Artwork
Champs de Mars: The Red Tower, 1911/23
Oil on canvas
63 1/4 x 50 5/8 in. (160.7 x 128.6 cm)
Signed and dated, l.r.: "r.d. 1911"
Inscribed on verso: "Champs de Mars / LA Tour rouge / 1911 / r. delaunay (epoque destructive)"
Joseph Winterbotham Collection, 1959.1
Robert Delaunay was four years old when the Eiffel Tower was erected in Paris in the public green space known as the Champ de Mars. One of many artists to depict the landmark, Delaunay did a series of Eiffel Tower paintings, of which the Art Institute’s example is among the best known. The artist infused the dynamism of modern life into this image by employing multiple viewpoints, rhythmic fragmentation of form, and strong color contrasts. Delaunay accented the structure’s towering presence by framing it with tall buildings and placing smaller, shorter buildings, seen from above, at its base. The top of the tower seems to soar, its massive structure augmented by winglike clouds and patches of light-filled sky.
The artist first showed this painting in the winter of 1912, at the Galerie Barbazanges in Paris, where Guillaume Apollinaire described the work in a review as "unfinished, whether by design or accident." Although Delaunay’s intent is not recorded, it is certain that by 1923, when this work was illustrated in the pages of the Bulletin de l’effort moderne, it looked as it does today: the artist had repainted portions of the canvas and filled areas of reserve with paint.
— Entry, The Essential Guide, 2013, p.252.
This is one of the most imposing of a series of about eleven paintings that Robert Delaunay devoted to the Eiffel Tower between 1909 and 1911. Erected for the 1889 World's Fair on the Champs de Mars, a military parade ground, the Eiffel Tower had become a widely recognized symbol of modernity. It was originally painted a brilliant red, a color that, together with its steel-girded construction and size (it was the tallest structure in the world, reaching a height of 984 feet), set it apart from the prevalent grayness of the surrounding city, as Delaunay emphasized so effectively in his painting. The imposing size of this canvas further enhances the visionary impact of the tower caught in a blaze of light as shafts of sunlight emanate from it in all directions and yellow sun disks dance around its top. Like an apparition, the tower rises above the surrounding houses, metaphorically shaking the very foundations of the old order.
Unlike his Cubist colleagues, who limited themselves to muted colors and a restricted range of traditional subjects (mostly still lifes, landscapes, and portraits), Delaunay combined a Cubist treatment of form with an interest in color theory and a fascination with contemporary subjects. In this painting, Delaunay brilliantly adapted the Cubist vocabulary of faceted and fragmented forms to render the transparent and seemingly weightless structure of the tower, as well as to evoke the extraordinary sense of excitement many experienced at the dawn of a great, new age of technological marvels. Delaunay's painting conveys this feeling of boundless optimism, the innocence and freshness of a time that had not yet witnessed the two world wars and the destructive potential of this same technology.
A 1912 exhibition photograph of this painting shows that Delaunay elaborated it at a later date.
—Entry, Margherita Andreotti, Art Institute of Chicago Museum Studies, Vol. 20, No. 2, The Joseph Winterbotham Collection at The Art Institute of Chicago (1994), p. 140-141.
Paris, Galerie Barbazanges, Les Peintres R. Delaunay, Marie Laurencin, February 28–March 13, 1912, cat. 5.
Berlin, Galerie der Sturm, XII Ausstellung: R. Delaunay, Ardengo Soffici, Julie Baum, February 1913, cat. 1.
Budapest, Museum House, International Post-Impressionist Exhibition, April–May 1913, cat. 41.
São Paolo, Brazil, Conservatório Dramático e Musical, June 12, 1924.
São Paolo, Brazil, exhibited during Tarsila do Amaral show, September 1929.
São Paolo, Brazil, Sociedade Pro Arte Moderna, Primero Exposição de Arte Moderna da Sociedade pro Arte Moderna: Pintura, Escultura, Arquitetura, 1933 (ill.), as Torre Eiffel.
Paris, Orangerie des Tuileries, Robert Delaunay (1885–1941), May 25–August 30, 1976, pp. 21 and 54, cat. 29 (ill.); traveled to Baden-Baden, Staatliche Kunsthalle, September 17–November 7, 1976.
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Futurism and the International Avant-Garde, October 26, 1980–January 4, 1981, cat. 84 (ill.).
Nagaoka, Japan, Niigata Prefectural Museum of Modern Art, Masterworks of Modern Art from The Art Institute of Chicago, April 20–May 29, 1994, pp. 92–93, cat. 24 (ill.); traveled to Nagoya, Aichi Prefectural Museum of Art, June 10–July 24, 1994, and Yokohama Museum of Art, August 6–September 25, 1994.
New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Visions of Paris: Robert Delaunay's Series, January 16–April 25, 1998, pp. 32–33, and 35, cat. 30 (ill.); traveled to Berlin, Deutsche Guggenheim, November 7, 1997–January 4, 1998.
Paris, Centre Georges Pompidou, Robert Delaunay 1906–1914: De L’Impressionisme à Abstraction, June 3, 1999–August 16, 1999, pp. 137 and 147 (ill.).
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Apollinaire, Guillaume, Les Fenêtres (Album edited by R. Delaunay) (Paris, 1912), pl. 3.
Galerie Barbazanges, Les Peintres R. Delaunay, Marie Laurencin, exh. cat. (Paris: Galerie Barbazanges, 1912), cat. 5.
Bulletin de L’Effort Moderne 6 (June 1924), n.p. (ill.), as La Tour Eiffel.
Einstein, Carl, Die Kunst des 20 Jahrhunderts (Berlin: Im Propyläen, 1926), pp. 342 and 563 (ill.), as Der Eifelturm.
Bazin, Germain, “L’Orphisme,” L’Amour de l’Art XIV:10 (December 1933), pp. 246 and 248, fig. 311, as La Tour Eiffel.
Sociedade Pro Arte Moderna, Primero Exposição de Arte Moderna da Sociedade pro Arte Moderna: Pintura, Escultura, Arquitetura, exh. cat. (São Paolo, Brazil: Sociedade Pro Arte Moderna, 1933) (ill.), as Torre Eiffel.
Zervos, Christian, Histoire de l’Art Contemporain (Paris: Éditions Cahiers d’Art, 1938), p. 247 (ill.), as La Tour Eiffel.
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Degand, Léon, “La Peinture Cubiste,” Art d’Aujourd’hui 3–4:4 (1953), p. 15 (ill.), as Torre Eiffel.
Aznar, José Camón, Picasso y el Cubismo (Madrid: Espasa-Calpe, 1956), p. 142, fig. 83, as Tour Eiffel.
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Amaral, Aracy, Tarsila Cronista (São Paulo, Brazil: Editora da Universidade de São Paulo, 2001), pp. 71–72, as Tour Eiffel.
Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Robert y Sonia Delaunay, 1905–1941, exh. cat. (Madrid: Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza 2002), pp. 154–155, cat. 55 (ill.).
Sotheby’s, New York, Russian Art (New York: Sotheby’s, April 23, 2004), p. 82, fig. 2, as The Eiffel Tower.
Sold by Galerie L’Effort Moderne, Paris, to Tarsila do Amaral (1886–1973), Paris and São Paolo, Brazil, 1923 [letter from Aracy A. Amaral of July 15, 1975 in curatorial file]; sold to the Galerie Michel Couturier, Paris, c. 1952 [letter mentioned above]. Sold by Justin K. Thannhauser, New York, to the Art Institute, 1959.