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 Morgan Russell  (1886 - 1953)

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Lived/Active: California / France      Known for: synchromist, modernist painter

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Morgan Russell
from Auction House Records.
Synchomy in Blue-Violet
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Morgan Russell was born in New York City in 1886.  He was a handsome young man who modeled nude for sculpture classes as a student and made his first trip to Europe at the age of twenty.  The Fauves and their brilliant, emotional colors were all the rage and much influenced Russell. 

He settled in Paris in 1909, took classes from Matisse and in conjunction with Macdonald-Wright, synthesized their research into what they called Synchronism, meaning simply "with color."  It combined the spatial figures of Cubism with full-blast color and pushed beyond any clear images into abstraction.  But the flame burned out quickly and Russell all but abandoned the movement by 1916.  Consequently, Robert Delaunay was credited with inventing the style.

Physical problems plagued him also; he wrote Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, whose monthly stipends had supported his life abroad, that eye troubles made it impossible to paint with bright hues any longer.

He lived in France in constant poverty, until after World War II.  In 1946, he came back to America where be settled near a stepdaughter in Ardmore, Pennsylvania.  He died in 1953.


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

Source:
Peter Plagens in Newsweek, July 16, 1990

This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Working with Stanton Macdonald-Wright in Paris, Morgan Russell was the developer of Synchromism, a color theory of form being generated by color and based on Chevreul's book On the Law of Simultaneous Contrast of Colours.

The name Synchromism suggests "chroma" or being with colour and associated or combined with the rhythms of a symphony.  Russell's goal was to express color in the same dramatic twists and turns that Rubens and Michelangelo imposed on form. The idea came to him when he studied with Canadian Ernest Tudor-Hart, a color theorist.

At this time, he was very much a part of the avant-garde circles of Paris and associated with Picasso, Matisse, Leo and Gertrude Stein.  In 1916, Russell visited America, but returned to Paris the following year and remained there with the exception of 1931 when he taught briefly at Chouinard Art School.

In addition to abstract, synchromist works, he also painted nudes, landscapes, and classical subjects in realist styles.

Source:
Peter Falk, Who Was Who in American Art


This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Born in NYC in 1886. Russell studied with Robert Henri NYC and, while studying architecture in Paris, abandoned his chosen field to become a painter. While in Paris he studied with Matisse and met artist Stanton MacDonald-Wright in 1912. Their experiments with color led them to develop an art style they termed Synchromism. For seven years Russell was involved with this modern art form but in 1919 returned to figurative painting. Russell stayed in Paris until 1931. He then joined the staff at Chouinard School of Art but was in Los Angeles only briefly before returning to Europe. At the close of WWII, he settled in Pennsylvania where he remained until his demise in Ardmore on May 29, 1953. Exh: Armory Show (NYC), 1913; Modern Art Workers (LA), 1925; LACMA, 1927, 1932 (with MacDonald-Wright); Palos Verdes Library, 1933; Stendahl Gallery (LA), 1942. In: MOMA; LACMA; NMAA; San Diego Museum; Whitney Museum (NYC); Cornell Univ.
Source:
Edan Hughes, "Artists in California, 1786-1940"
Abstract Painting & Sculpture in America; American Art Annual 1915; Artists of the American West (Doris Dawdy); Southern California Artists (Nancy Moure); NY Times, 5-31-1953 (obituary); Los Angeles Times, 6-4-1953 (obituary).
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.

Biography from David Cook Galleries:
During his childhood in the Greenwich Village area of New York City, Morgan Russell planned to follow in his father’s footsteps by becoming an architect. He began study at the Art Student’s League in 1904. After his first trip to Italy and Paris in 1906, Russell decided to abandon architecture in order to study painting and sculpture full-time.

In autumn of 1907, Russell began studying with Robert Henri at the New York School of Art. During this time, Russell also developed a friendship with Andrew Dasburg who was then living in Woodstock, New York.

Russell moved to Paris in 1908 where he met several artists including Pablo Picasso, Auguste Rodin, and Henri Matisse. The following year, Russell began studies with Matisse.

While attending Ernest Percyval Tudor-Hart’s classes on color theory, Russell met fellow American Stanton Macdonald-Wright. They formed a close friendship and discussed color theory and other aesthetic issues at length. Together, the pair developed a style (likely related to Orphism) that was meant to use color to define form and meaning. Russell and Macdonald-Wright each began painting color abstractions they named Synchromies in 1912. They exhibited them first in Paris and then at the Armory Show held in New York City in 1913. Synchromism developed into a movement that survived until 1918.

After the decline of Synchromism, Russell returned to representational painting, exhibiting approximately thirty portraits, nudes, and landscapes in 1919. Although he spent much of his career in France, Russell’s presence was felt in the United States; first with the spread of Synchromism, and later through the paintings sold for him in California by Stanton Macdonald-Wright.

In 1946, Russell married Suzanne Binon. The couple returned to the United States later that year settling in Ardmore, Pennsylvania. Russell experienced a paralyzing stroke just two years later. By 1950 he had not regained use of his right hand and had learned to paint and write using his left. During the next few years, Russell’s work was exhibited in New York at the Rose Fried Gallery and the Museum of Modern Art. Morgan Russell died in a nursing home in Broomall, Pennsylvania, in 1953.

Exhibited: Salon d’Atomne, Paris, 1910; Salon des Indépendants, Paris, 1912-1914, 1920-1925; Der Nue Kunstsalon, Munich, 1913; Bernheim-Jeune Gallery, Paris, 1913; Armory Show, 1913; Carrol Galleries, New York City, 1914 (Exhibition of Synchromist Paintings by Morgan Russell and Stanton Macdonald-Wright); Anderson Galleries (Forum Exhibition of Modern American Painters), New York City, 1916; Galerie Berthe Weill, Paris, 1919; Galerie d’art des editions, 1919; San Francisco, 1920 (Modern American Painters); Galerie Cheron, Paris, 1920; Galerie Lucien Vogel, Paris, 1921; Galerie La Licorne, Paris, 1923; Galerie Marguerite Henri, Paris, 1925; Oakland Art Gallery, 1927; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1927 (Synchromism), 1932; Galerie G. & L., Bollag, Zurich, 1931; San Francisco, 1931; New Stendahl Art Galleries, Los Angeles 1932, 1942 (with Stanton Macdonald-Wright); Rose Fried Gallery, New York, 1950, 1953 (memorial); Sidney Janis Gallery, New York, 1951; Museum of Modern Art, 1951; 1967.

Works held: Cornell University; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute; Museum of Modern Art; National Museum of American Art; New York University; San Diego Museum; Whitney Museum of American Art.

Further Reading: History of Modern Art: Painting, Sculpture, Architecture, Photography, Fourth Edition, H.H. Arnason revised by Marla F. Prather, Prentice Hall Inc. and Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1998.

Morgan Russell, Marilyn S. Kushner with an introduction by William C. Agee, Hudson Hills Press for the Montclair Art Museum, New York, 1990.

Synchromism and Related Color Principles in American Painting 1910-1930, Exhibition Catalogue, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1967.

Who Was Who in American Art 1564-1975: 400 Years of Artists in America, Vol. 3. Peter Hastings Falk, Georgia Kuchen and Veronica Roessler, eds., Sound View Press, Madison, Connecticut, 1999. 3 Vols.

Biography from Hollis Taggart Galleries (Artists, P-R):
Morgan Russell, with Stanton Macdonald Wright, founded Synchromism, the only modernist movement created by American artists before World War I. Based on the theory that harmony exists between colors as well as between musical notes, Synchromism employed color alone to define form, meaning, and composition.

Born in New York City on January 25, 1886, Russell started his career by following in the footsteps of his architect father. After months of European travel in 1906, Russell returned to New York and began to study sculpture at the Art Students League. After spending the summer of 1907 in Woodstock, New York, Russell switched to painting. He returned to New York that fall to take Robert Henri’s class at the New York School of Art.

With assistance from his patron, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, Russell settled in Paris in 1909 and began moving in modernist circles. Although his style was still grounded in realism, his paintings gradually became freer and more abstract. Russell explored ways to define mass as well as empty areas in an abstract manner through the use of pure color.

In 1913 Russell was represented in the Armory Show and the Salon des Indépendants in Paris, where he exhibited his first synchromist painting. Later that year Russell and Macdonald-Wright collaborated in all-synchromist shows in Munich and at the Bernheim-Jeune Galleries in Paris. Russell painted his last series of abstract Synchromies in 1922.

Russell remained in France during World War I and settled in Aigremont, a tiny village in Burgundy in 1921. With the exception of a period of abstraction in the 1920s, Russell’s interwar work comprises Cézannesque still lifes and portraits in a more muted palette. His first wife died in the 1930s, and Russell later married a niece of Claude Monet in 1946. That year, they settled in Ardmore, Pennsylvania, where Russell died in 1953.

© Copyright 2008 Hollis Taggart Galleries

Biography from Papillon Gallery:
Morgan Russell
1886 –1953

Morgan Russell was born in New York in 1886. He came to Paris in 1906 to study art, where he immediately fell into the most progressive artistic circles.

In 1909 Russell met Gertrude and Leo Stein, who introduced him to Matisse and Picasso. He began exhibiting at the Salon des Indépandants in 1913. In June of the same year he and Stanton Mac-Donald Wright had their first Synchronistic exhibition at Der Neue Kunstsalon in Munich, with a follow-up exhibition at Galerie Bernheim-Jeune. Russell also exhibited his paintings at the famous New York Armory Show of 1913.

Synchronism was an early and important innovation in pure abstract painting, which was developed primarily by Russell with contributions from Stanton Macdonald-Wright.

Russell returned to the United States briefly in 1916 where he had an exhibition at the Anderson Galleries in New York City.

Russell returned to Paris and was one of the few forgiven artists to remain in France during the war. He took refuge in the south were he was able to continue to paint. It was around this time Russell wrote to Macdonald-Wright that he had forever abandon Synchronism. His paintings then returned to figurations with strong Expressionists colors and Cubist technique and boldness. Exhibitions of Russell’s paintings and drawings were held at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 1927 and 1932. After World War Two Russell returned to settle in Ardmore, Pennsylvania.

Russell is represented in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Museum of Modern Art in New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, and many others. There was recently a book published illustrating Russell’s extraordinary body of work.

Biography from Mark Borghi Fine Art Inc - New York:
Morgan Russell was born in New York, where he studied sculpture at the Art Students League and painting under Robert Henri. In 1908 he settled in Paris, where he briefly attended Matisse's art school. By 1910 he was devoting himself increasingly to painting, and in 1911 he met Stanton Macdonald-Wright, with whom he developed theories about the analogies between colours and musical patterns. In 1913 they launched Synchromism, and Russell's painting, "Synchromy in Orange: To Form" (Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, 1913-14) won him considerable renown in Paris.

His later work, in which he reintroduced figurative elements, was much less memorable than were his pioneering abstract paintings. He lived in Paris until 1946, and then returned to the USA.

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Morgan Russell is also mentioned in these AskART essays:
New York Armory Show of 1913
Fauves/Fauvism
Modernism

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