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.
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