The peripatetic Joaquín Torres-García (1874–1949) was already 55 years old with a long career behind him by the time he created this work in 1929. When he was a young painter in Barcelona, his imagination had been fired by art nouveau and the murals of Puvis de Chavannes. In the 1920s he had experimented with cubism and primitivism and had met many leading modernists. But it was not until 1928, two years into a new life in Paris, that he began, through the abstract paintings of Piet Mondrian and Theo van Doesburg and the movement known as De Stijl, to find his own way.
This painting is one of a few in which Torres-García arrived at his mature style. His allegiance to De Stijl is evident in the vertical-horizontal grid and the restriction of his palette to the three primary colors, albeit muted. The delicate layering and subtle painterly touch, however, are all his own—as are the symbols filling the grid. They embody what Torres-García would call "universal constructivism," which proposed a harmony between the intellect (represented here by the triangle and clock), the emotions (the house), and nature (the fish and the elephant). When he returned to Montevideo, Uruguay, his birthplace, in 1934, Torres-García expanded this system to include pre-Columbian elements, but he remained faithful to its basic outlines for the rest of his career.
In Uruguay, Torres-García shook up the academic establishment and became a leading teacher and proponent of modernism, laying the groundwork for the explosion of neoconstructivism in postwar Latin America. He was also influential in New York, where a posthumous exhibition at the Sidney Janis Gallery in 1950 was admired by Barnett Newman and may have influenced Adolph Gottlieb and Louise Nevelson. His fascination with the compartmentalization of signs has its legacy in works by Jasper Johns, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, and others.
Untitled Composition, a gift of Vicki and Roger Sant, was originally bought from the artist by his good friend, the sculptor Jacques Lipchitz, soon after it was made, and it remained with the Lipchitz family. The work has rarely traveled, which explains its pristine condition. This gift brings the Gallery its first painting by the artist and lays the basis for further acquisitions of Latin American modernism, a major ambition in our collecting.
upper left: J. Torrès-GARCIA; upper right: 29; upper left on top stretcher bar reverse: N=21
The artist; purchased soon after 1929 by Jacques Lipchitz [1891-1973], Paris and Hastings-on-Hudson, New York; his heirs; purchased 18 May 2010 through (Mary-Anne Martin Fine Art, New York) by NGA.
- Peintures de J. Torrès-Garcia, Galerie Percier, Paris, 1931.
- Joaquin Torres-Garcia: The Arcadian Modern, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2015-2016.
- Guéguen, Pierre. "Les exposition à Paris et ailleurs." Cahiers d'Art 6, nos. 9-10 (1931): 450-451, repro.