Umberto Boccioni, ‘Unique Forms of Continuity in Space’ 1913, cast 1972
Umberto Boccioni, Unique Forms of Continuity in Space 1913, cast 1972 . Tate

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Modern Times

Unique Forms of Continuity in Space

Umberto Boccioni, Unique Forms of Continuity in Space  1913, cast 1972

In the early years of the twentieth century, industrialisation swept across Italy. The futurist movement was founded by writers and artists like Umberto Boccioni, who enthused about new inventions such as cars and electricity. In Unique Forms of Continuity in Space, the figure is aerodynamically deformed by speed. Boccioni exaggerated the body’s dynamism so that it embodied the urge towards progress. The sculpture may reflect ideas of the mechanised body that appeared in futurist writings, as well as the ‘superman’ envisaged by the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche.

Gallery label, February 2016

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Windows Open Simultaneously (First Part, Third Motif)

Robert Delaunay, Windows Open Simultaneously (First Part, Third Motif)  1912

T00920

The Eiffel Tower can just be made out among the planes (flat areas) of colour here. Delaunay included the structure in many paintings. Its construction 25 years earlier caused controversy. Critics called it a ‘ridiculous tower dominating Paris like a gigantic black smokestack’. When Delaunay made this work, it was still a symbol of modernity. He took his inspiration from a postcard showing the tower overlooking rooftops. The many bright colours evoke intense light and suggest fast-paced interactions experienced in the city.

Gallery label, April 2019

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Bottle of Rum and Newspaper

Juan Gris, Bottle of Rum and Newspaper  1913–14

Like many cubist works, Gris’s painting provides a revised experience of the everyday, whether in the studio or in a familiar café. Glimpsed letters confirm the positions of the two objects: UM for rum, JOUR (of ‘journal’) for the newspaper. A table is indicated by the false wood-graining, a house-painter’s skill much admired by the cubists because it is identifiably an illusion. Gris interweaves these fragmentary images of the familiar into a complex, carefully balanced structure.

Gallery label, August 2013

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Painting

Albert Gleizes, Painting  1921

Gleizes’s abstract paintings often keep strong links with subject matter that inspired them. Here the image may be based on a female head, possibly that of the artist’s wife. Gleizes was a pacifist but was conscripted into the French army in the First World War. Deeply affected by this experience, he became gravely concerned with the future of society. He thought artists could help create a better world, not just by making beautiful things but by offering new ways of looking.

Gallery label, January 2019

© ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2020

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Triptych

Sonia Delaunay, Triptych  1963

A pioneer of abstraction and an innovator in the fields of fashion, interior decoration, architecture and advertising, Sonia Delaunay’s career spanned much of the twentieth century. Her early abstract paintings attempted to capture the dynamism of the modern city and she continued to experiment with abstraction throughout her life. In Triptych, made in her late seventies, she set herself the challenge of introducing a white area in the centre of the work, making it more difficult to create a unity between the three sections. She wrote this work ‘opened up new vistas for me’.

Gallery label, February 2016

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Carnival

Max Beckmann, Carnival  1920

This work captures the climax of carnival season in Germany. A period of fancy-dress parties, masked balls and street processions. The two standing figures are based on close friends of the artist. The masked clown on the floor is thought to be Beckmann himself.
The Nazis did not approve of Beckmann’s work. They dismissed the distortions of his figures as ‘degenerate’ art. In 1933 the Nazi government removed Beckmann from his teaching post in Frankfurt. Several of his works were also included in their 1937 Degenerate Art show, prompting him to leave Germany for Amsterdam.

Gallery label, July 2019

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Suburban Train Arriving in Paris

Gino Severini, Suburban Train Arriving in Paris  1915

This painting of a train arriving in Paris attempts to express movement and conflicting energies through its fractured, interpenetrating forms. Like all the Italian futurists, Severini was inspired by modern machinery and was enthusiastic about the idea of war. In June 1915 he stayed for some weeks just outside Paris where the sight of trains passing close by day and night laden with munitions, soldiers or wounded prompted the creation of this work.

Gallery label, February 2016

© ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2020

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Paris

Maria Helena Vieira da Silva, Paris  1951

Vieira da Silva made this painting while she was living in Paris. She had recently returned to the city after a period of exile in Portugal and Brazil during the Second World War. Her paintings often resemble mazes or cities seen from above. The web of lines here suggests what one critic called her ‘absorption in space’. Rather than portraying a particular scene, it appears to capture the creative energy that she found in Paris.

Gallery label, July 2019

© ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2020

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Composition in Blue Module

Saloua Raouda Choucair, Composition in Blue Module  1947–51

Choucair was one of the few Lebanese artists of her generation devoted to geometric abstraction. Composition in Blue Module dates from the late 1940s and early 1950s, when she was studying in Paris. The blues, purple and lighter tones show the subtle shifts of colour that characterised her early painting. Like many of her paintings, it uses the two basic elements of Islamic design – the straight line and the curve – as a starting point to create simple shapes which she duplicates in various combinations and divisions.

Gallery label, July 2019

© Saloua Raouda Choucair Foundation

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The Acrobat and his Partner

Fernand Léger, The Acrobat and his Partner  1948

Léger was closely involved with the Peace Movement at the height of the Cold War. Together with Picasso, he attended the Communist-sponsored Peace Congress in Poland in August 1948. The Acrobat and his Partner was completed only months before and captures the circus as a symbol of the energy of modern life and popular entertainment. He wrote of this painting: ‘I work less by reflection than by instinct’. He strove to balance ‘the dynamic and the static.’ Here the partner holding the ladder provides the stability for the energetic movement of the acrobat and his disc.

Gallery label, February 2016

© ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2020

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Composition in Red and Green, Squares and Circles

Anwar Jalal Shemza, Composition in Red and Green, Squares and Circles  1963

Shemza began his artistic career in Lahore, Pakistan, as a painter and writer. He moved to London in 1956. Feeling displaced in Britain, he stopped making figurative paintings. Instead he began studying Islamic art from different periods, in search of what he called his ‘own identity’. He started creating compositions that fused calligraphy and aspects of Mughal architecture with European abstract art. He commented: ‘I am much more aware of my own art heritage now than I ever was in Pakistan. You only become aware of the things you lose.’

Gallery label, January 2019

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Glasses and Bottles

Amédée Ozenfant, Glasses and Bottles  c.1922–6

Ozenfant applied the principles of classical proportion to everyday, modern subjects. The fluting of the bottles in this painting recalls classical columns, and is echoed in the glasses. The relationships between these objects creates harmony and unity. Ozenfant believed that finding order in the world around us was fundamental to the experience of beauty. He wrote, ‘the greatest human satisfaction is the feeling of collaboration or participation in this order’.

Gallery label, January 2019

© ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2020

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The Diners

William Roberts, The Diners  1919

This is one of three decorative ‘panels’ commissioned for the ‘Restaurant de la Tour Eiffel’ in London. All three panels hung in the first floor lobby leading to two private dining rooms, one of which was known as the ‘Vorticist Room’, named after the group of avant garde artists engaged in expressing the dynamic modern world who congregated there.

Gallery label, February 2016

© The estate of William Roberts

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Diego Rivera, Still Life  1916

The objects depicted in this painting include a flask, a wine glass, a soda dispenser, a book and a tin of milk on a table. He also included his signature and the date of the painting on the milk label (‘DR/anno 16’). Rivera applied paint in different ways to create a variety of textures in the work. As a young painter in Paris, Rivera embraced cubism, a way of showing different viewpoints in a single painting. In the 1920s, he would go on make large mural paintings. He said he had not abandoned cubism but was ‘following the natural evolution’ of the style.

Gallery label, September 2019

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Pierrot with Book

Juan Gris, Pierrot with Book  1924

Although this painting is resolutely figurative, it is strongly influenced by Cubism. Pierrot’s upper body is neatly framed within the architectural framework of the window behind him and the depiction of his face combines a frontal and sideways perspective. The greatly exaggerated hands contrast with the impression of daintiness given by Pierrot’s cupid-bow mouth and the soft pastel hues employed by Gris.

Gallery label, September 2004

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Jean Hélion, Ile de France  1935

Hélion was one of the most prominent abstract artists in Paris in the 1930s. He later returned to a more representational style. Ile de France is mostly composed of flattened planes of colour but the forms in the foreground appear solid and three-dimensional. At the time, Hélion reflected: ‘The more I advance the more evident is the attraction of nature…the volumes want to become complete: objects, bodies.’

Gallery label, January 2019

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Art in this room

Unique Forms of Continuity in Space
Umberto Boccioni Unique Forms of Continuity in Space 1913, cast 1972
Windows Open Simultaneously (First Part, Third Motif)
Robert Delaunay Windows Open Simultaneously (First Part, Third Motif) 1912
Bottle of Rum and Newspaper
Juan Gris Bottle of Rum and Newspaper 1913–14
Painting
Albert Gleizes Painting 1921
Triptych
Sonia Delaunay Triptych 1963
Carnival
Max Beckmann Carnival 1920

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