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 Stanton MacDonald-Wright  (1890 - 1973)

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Lived/Active: California      Known for: painter-synchromism, landscape, still life

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Ad Code: 1
Stanton MacDonald-Wright
from Auction House Records.
Au Cafe (Synchromy)
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Born in Charlottesville, VA on July 8, 1890. A problem child, Stanton ran away from home on a windjammer. When his father became manager of the Arcadia Hotel on the coast at Santa Monica, he moved with his family to California in 1900. His art studies were begun locally with Warren Hedges and Joseph Greenbaum. He soon hyphenated his last name with Macdonald to avoid being ask if he was related to the architect or the aviators. In 1909 he journeyed to Paris for further study at the Sorbonne, Académies Julian, Beaux Arts, and Colarossi. In Paris he and artist Morgan Russell developed an art style which they termed Synchromism in which color generates form. They co-exhibited in Paris and Munich in 1913 and New York in 1914. Upon returning to the U.S. in 1916, MacDonald-Wright was active on the East Coast until his return to Los Angeles in 1918. He then turned from Synchromism to a more oriental approach to art, and produced the first full-length stop-motion film ever made in full color. He was director of the ASL of Los Angeles from 1923-30. During the 1930s he served as regional advisor for seven states on the WPA art program. From 1942-52 he taught oriental aesthetics, art history, and iconography at UCLA. Upon retirement, he devoted full time to painting, dividing his time between Kyoto, Japan and his home in Santa Monica. His work alternated throughout his career between pure abstractions and figural representations. Eugen Neuhaus put it succinctly in his History and Ideals of American Art, "Wright apparently attempts to correlate music with painting, as indicated in his emphasis upon strongly moving dynamic rhythms clothed in the hues of the spectrum." A pioneer in modern art, MacDonald-Wright died in Los Angeles on Aug. 22, 1973. Exh: American Modernists (LA), 1920; Calif. WC Society, 1923-25; LACMA, 1927, 1932, 1956; Art Center School (LA), 1941; North Carolina Museum, 2001 (retrospective). In: Brooklyn Museum; LACMA; MM; CGA; AIC; Carnegie Inst.; Detroit Inst. of Arts; Boston Museum; Oakland Museum; MOMA; Walker Art Center (Minneapolis); San Diego Museum; Pasadena Art Inst.; Orange Co. (CA) Museum; Santa Monica City Hall, High School and Public Library; Whitney Museum (NYC); Thomas Edison Jr. High School (LA).
Edan Hughes, "Artists in California, 1786-1940"
Los Angeles Times, 7-27-1930; Who's Who in American Art 1938-70; Southern California Artists (Nancy Moure); Who's Who in California 1942; American Art Review, April 2001.
Nearly 20,000 biographies can be found in Artists in California 1786-1940 by Edan Hughes and is available for sale ($150). For a full book description and order information please click here.

This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Stanton Macdonald-Wright was born in Charlottesville, Virginia in 1890 and grew up in a well-off hotel-managing family.  His father treated him to painting lessons when he was five years old.  Mystery writer S.S. Van Dine was his brother.  At fifteen young Stanton rebelliously went to sea on a windjammer, and got so seasick that he was put off at Hawaii.  Private detectives sent by his father brought him back home.  His family solved his wanderlust by sending him off to Paris at sixteen to study art at the Sorbonne and the Beaux Arts, Colarossi and Julian Academies. 

He and Morgan Russell developed the style they called Synchromism.  The idea was that color generates form.

Returning to the United States, he lived in New York from 1914 to 1919, and then returned to Los Angeles where he turned from Synchromism to a more Oriental style.  He also produced the first full-length motion picture in color.

MacDonald-Wright was a man given to confounding the experts.  Art critics pronounced him through at thirty; his doctors, unable to diagnose a mysterious illness, gave up his case as hopeless at forty-seven.  Both doctors and critics were wrong.  He painted for many years with a rich, more serene art, with formal soaring movements and pure color that suggest visualized orchestral music.

In the 1930s, he was a seven-states regional director of the WPA art program, and one of his commissions was a very large mural of the Santa Monica Public Library.  From 1942 to 1952 he taught iconography at the University of California at Los Angeles and after retiring divided his time between Los Angeles and Kyoto, Japan.

He died in 1973.

Written and submitted by Jean Ershler Schatz, artist and researcher from Laguna Woods, California.

Sources include:
Time Magazine, March 5, 1956
From the internet,

Biography from Tobey C. Moss Gallery:
After studying at the Art Students League of Los Angeles, Stanton Macdonald-Wright, at the age of 17, moved to Paris to continue his training. With fellow artist Morgan Russell, he developed Synchromism:, an aesthetic philosophy of color perception: modernism. He described rhythmic abstracted forms in luminous layers of color that identified much of Macdonald-Wright's visual vocabulary.

With the advent of the World War I in 1916, Macdonald Wright joined his brother in New York. By 1919, he returned to Los Angeles, rejoined the Art Students League and took a position of leadership. In 1923, Macdonald Wright organized a landmark exhibition: "The Group of Independent Artists" uniting Los Angeles artists with his friends Thomas Hart Benton, Morgan Russell and others for a window on modernism.

From the mid-1920s through the 1930s, he turned to subjective composition, combining cubistic and synchromist elements. In the mid-1930s, as director of the mural division within the Southern California WPA/FAP, figuration predominated in his murals. Following World War II, he experienced an awakening interest in Cubism, Zen Buddhism and meditation. By 1950 he reaffirmed his Synchromist color theories and cited the light and landscape of southern California in his later work.

Stanton MacDonald Wright was an intellectual force, an artist, an administrator, an art historian, a teacher and a true leader within the Los Angeles modernist community.

Biography from The Caldwell Gallery :
Stanton MacDonald-Wright was a well educated early Modernist.  His first academic training was at the Art Students League in Los Angeles, 1904-05, and then he traveled to Paris to study from 1907 to 1909) at the Acadamie Julian, and then the Ecole Des Beaux Arts, 1909-1912.  MacDonald-Wright is credited for inventing "Synchronism", a style in which form is generated by color.

According to this theory, the use of color was governed by natural laws that endow each color with its own character and emotional quality.  He was active on the East Coast until his move to Santa Barbara in 1919, where he taught at the ASL for eight years.

He took up an interest in Eastern philosophy and approach to art, and his own work moved between pure abstraction to figuration throughout his career.  MacDonald-Wright produced the first full-length, stop motion film ever made in full color for which he created 500 pastel drawings and designed synchromatic theater sets.  He also served as the regional adviser in seven states for the WPA in the 19030s.

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