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Synchromism Collage

Started: 1912

Ended: 1924

Summary of Synchromism

At the time when French, German, and Eastern European artists were deftly pushing painting toward complete abstraction in the second decade of the 20th century, two audacious Americans, Morgan Russell and Stanton Macdonald-Wright, then living in Paris, made their own forays into abstraction, calling their new movement Synchromism. Russell coined the term when he thought of the word "symphony," and "chrome" flashed across his mind, so he put the two words together. The resulting paintings, called Synchromies, used the color scale in the way notes might be arranged in a musical piece, as the two artists wrote, "Synchromism simply means 'with color' as symphony means 'with sound'...."

Dismissing their artistic confrères, the Synchromists insisted that they had finally used color abstractly and not descriptively. While their bombast offended their European colleagues, the Synchromists had a small, if short-lived, following back in the United States and are known for being America's first avant-garde group.

Key Ideas

Above all, the Synchromists insisted not on the optical effects of color but the materiality and tactility of color; that is, they wanted to use color, and not the more traditional line, to create form and space. By layering and juxtaposing different colored planes, Synchromist paintings create space through a back and forth movement, or a push-pull, of chromatic forms.
Synchromists often thought of painting in musical terms. Arranging colors in a composition was likened to arranging sounds in a musical score. Like many contemporary abstract artists, the Synchromists envisioned pictorial abstraction operating in the same non-representational manner as music. Like musical notes and compositions, color and form could engender emotions and sensations without direct representation.
Despite their insistence on complete abstraction, the sculptural figure, especially as seen in the Renaissance artist Michelangelo, was foundational for the Synchromists' conception of form and space. Michelangelo's twisting figures conveyed a generative force that the Synchromists wanted to achieve in two dimensions.
Synchromism Image


A number of influences came together in the development of Synchromism, including the influence of the Fauves, and particularly Henri Matisse, as well as the work of Paul Cézanne and the Cubism of Pablo Picasso. Additionally, the color theories of the Canadian artist Ernest Percyval-Tudor as well as atonal music and sculpture, particularly on the part of Russell, contributed to the formulation of the movement.

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