National Gallery of Art - EXHIBITIONS

Max Weber's Modern Vision

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Introduction | Paris | New York | Figuration to Fracture | Return to the Human Figure | Images

Figuration to Fracture

Weber's development of a cubist approach--the depiction of a subject from multiple, simultaneous viewpoints--can be visualized by comparing three drawings. The earliest, Standing Nude with Upraised Arm (1910), showcases Weber's mastery of draftsmanship. While the elongated features and formal pose are reminiscent of ancient Egyptian art, volume is rendered traditionally with gradations of tone. Dancer in Green (1912), is less concerned with representing volume and more with reducing forms to geometric elements: the figure's dress is here transformed into a triangle. The drawing is one in a series of translucent figures created between 1910 and 1912, which Weber called "crystal figures"; they are among the earliest cubist images in American art. The later Cubist Figure (1915) signals a more complex geometric fragmentation, with multiple suggestions of body parts, as if the artist had recorded several visual encounters with his subject.

Weber, Stieglitz, and other New York artists adopted the modern megalopolis as a fresh subject for art, and Weber's Interior of the Fourth Dimension (1913) evokes the city through layers of cubist scaffolding. The title refers to the concept of a fourth dimension envisioned by Albert Einstein's Special Theory of Relativity, which had been published in 1905. Weber wrote on its potential role in visual art for Stieglitz's periodical Camera Work, expounding upon the fourth dimension as infinity and exploring its spiritual resonances.

Interior of the Fourth Dimension was painted in the year of the New York Armory Show, the first comprehensive exhibition of modern art in the United States. Weber was asked to submit two works, an honor that he declined, believing that he deserved to be more extensively represented. The painting shows that by 1913 Weber had become fluent in the cubist style, relating his art to such works as Marcel Duchamp's Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2, 1912 (Philadelphia Museum of Art), a revolutionary painting that collected multiple stages of a figure's movement into a single image. A similar fascination with representing movement can be seen in Weber's Rush Hour, New York (1915). While retaining cubist fracture, Rush Hour, New York snips the picture plane into diagonal bits of rushing city life. Such forms echo the Italian futurists, a group of artists and writers consumed with the dynamism of modern transportation and technology; Weber likely knew their work through essays and reproductions. Rhythm Interlaced of the same year, takes form, color, and motion as its essential subjects. Even the title refers to the structure and dynamics within the picture, a triangular arrangement in pale greens, reds, blues, and browns that balances a constellation of lyrical gray waves. Cézanne's reduction of forms to geometric shapes has been taken to its logical conclusion in such pastels, which are among Weber's purist abstractions.

Introduction | Paris | New York | Figuration to Fracture | Return to the Human Figure | Images