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Stanton Macdonald-Wright

American Abstract Painter

Stanton Macdonald-Wright Photo
Born: July 8, 1890
Charlottesville, Virginia, United States
Died: August 22, 1973
Los Angeles, California, United States
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I strive to divest my art of all anecdote and illustration and to purify it to the point where the emotions of the spectator will be wholly aesthetic, as when listening to good music
Stanton Macdonald-Wright

Summary of Stanton Macdonald-Wright

Best known as a co-founder of Synchromism, Stanton Macdonald-Wright was a pioneer, both as one of the first American avant-garde painters to receive international attention and for his role in introducing modern art to Los Angeles in the 1920s. He worked in both abstract and figurative styles, although both were guided by his belief in the harmonious and spiritual power of color, as well as his study of Asian art and belief systems.

Accomplishments

Biography of Stanton Macdonald-Wright

Stanton Macdonald-Wright Photo

Born to Archibald Davenport Wright and Annie van Vranken, Stanton MacDonald-Wright was named after women's rights activist Elizabeth Cady Stanton, whom his mother greatly admired. The family lived comfortably in Santa Monica, where his father ran a beachfront hotel. Archibald Wright was also an amateur artist, who encouraged Stanton's artistic talents, enrolling him in private art lessons as a young boy. His older brother, Willard Huntington Wright was an art writer and critic, who later wrote the very popular Philo Vance detective novels under the pseudonym S.S. Van Dine.

Important Art by Stanton Macdonald-Wright

Synchromy #3 (1915-1916)

Synchromy #3 (1915-1916)

This painting, an early example of the Synchromist style, utilizes color in an abstracted manner, allowing it to serve as both the subject and theme while building a three-dimensional rhythm across the two-dimensional surface of the canvas. Macdonald-Wright described this color effect as creating "bumps and hollows," bringing the flat surface of the painting closer to a sculpture.

Here, the composition creates balance within a field of dynamic movement through the deliberate and careful juxtapositions of brilliant and repeated hues. At the same time, these patches of color create a sense of classical harmony which is reinforced by the dimensions of the square canvas. The color spirals out from a central vortex, creating a sense of outward movement similar to that of an expanding universe.

The relationship of color with music was a central idea of Synchromy. Macdonald-Wright assigned each color of a twelve-color scale to a note on the musical scale. He then composed harmonious "color chords," and gave them a sense of rhythm through the juxtaposition of the various colors and the interplay of light and shadow. The result was a painting that was not just a static image, but a dynamic interplay of color that took time to see, not unlike the performance of a piece of music. These interdisciplinary theories provide an additional layer of universalizing meaning and significance to paintings such as this, elevating them from decorative arrangements to explanations (or at least, explorations) of larger cosmic systems.

Au Café (Synchromy) (1918)

Au Café (Synchromy) (1918)

This work, which at first appears quite similar to Macdonald-Wright's earlier, purely abstract synchromies, represents his shift towards figurative images. Within the shimmering facets of color, the viewer can pick out elements to reconstruct a pair of figures: a seated man at the lower right faces a woman wearing a hat, who is raising a wine glass to her lips. After an early period of abstraction, the majority of Macdonald-Wright's mature paintings would include some level of figuration, coupled with his color theory to create suggestive atmospheres and layered meaning.

Beyond the use of color to abstract and enliven these figures, the jewel-like tones are carefully arranged to evoke feelings of happiness and liveliness. Unlike more monochromatic and static Cubist depictions of café subjects, here the viewer can easily imagine a lively café setting, filled with upbeat music and bustling crowds. The mirrored use of deep reds, juxtaposed with cool blues and greens in each figure suggests a relationship that is passionate, but also comfortable, relaxed, and familiar.

Oriental Synchromy in Blue-Green (1918)

Oriental Synchromy in Blue-Green (1918)

Geometric planes of color (predominantly blues and greens, accented with orange and yellow) fill the canvas, creating an initial impression of an abstract composition. Yet, within the arrangement of these planes appear four human figures, obscured to the point that it is difficult to identify precisely where one figure begins and another ends. Nevertheless, the viewer is able to discern what art historian Ann Lee Morgan refers to as "fragmentary figural elements," including a face, a bent elbow, a thigh, and a raised arm. This creates a human element within the pulsating color fields.

In this particular image, sharp contrasts of light and shadow create stronger outlines toward the center of the work, diffusing toward the edges. This hazy effect not only enhances the artist's intended evocation of "space and depth," but also enhances the painting's subject - Macdonald-Wright wrote that it was "based - in its forms & arrangement & subject matter - on an opium smoking group." The graceful composition of the image reflects the euphoric, relaxed, dream-like state experienced by the opium smokers. As both Macdonald-Wright and his brother were addicted to opium during the 1910s, this would have been a personally familiar scene; shortly after this painting, however, Macdonald-Wright quit the habit, although his brother Willard never would.

Influences and Connections

Influences on Artist
Stanton Macdonald-Wright
Influenced by Artist
Open Influences
Close Influences

Useful Resources on Stanton Macdonald-Wright

Content compiled and written by Alexandra Duncan

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

"Stanton Macdonald-Wright Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Alexandra Duncan
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
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First published on 30 Nov 2019. Updated and modified regularly
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