Catalogue entry: Vibrant and colorful, Robert Delaunay's The City of Paris portrays not only how the city looks, but also what it feels like. Delaunay provides enough recognizable clues to identify his subjectmatter (for example, the Eiffel Tower, completed in 1889 and by this time already a landmark distinguishing Paris as the most modern of cities), but focuses mainly on revealing the contradictions of the urban experience—the sense of history and tradition combined with the vibrating pulse of modern life. At the time he painted The City of Paris Delaunay was starting to make a break with Cubism, which he had embraced only a year before. While still interested in portraying simultaneous views of his subjects, he rejected Cubism's privileging of line over color and its virtual elimination of visual sensation through its muted palette (see 1984.15). Here Delaunay clearly relishes using bright, expressive colors. With his images of Paris, Delaunay aimed to represent many dualities of visual perception simultaneously: frontal and aerial views, stillness and movement, abstraction and representation, the visual and the physical experience. Symbolizing the grace of Paris, the mythological Three Graces, adapted from classical images but here rendered in a very modern style, anchor the composition. While clearly distinguishable, the Graces, like the rest of the painting, are composed of prismatic color shapes designed to render depth and form through color value rather than through more traditional perspective. This combination of traditional subject matter and modern aesthetic demonstrates the bridge Delaunay is trying to build between past academic art and the present, rapidly changing, urban culture. During this period Delaunay moved increasingly towards nonrepresentational compositions, producing his first purely abstract works by 1912. The City of Paris stands in the middle of that transitional moment: providing both links to the past and hints of the future.
Rights: Purchased with funds from the Libbey Endowment, Gift of Edward Drummond Libbey