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Connecting Cubism to an American Narrative Exhibition on View at D. Wigmore Fine Art, Inc.
William L'Engle (1884-1957), Circus Scene, 1926, 30 x 40 inches. Oil on canvas. Photo: D. Wigmore Fine Art, Inc.

NEW YORK, NY.- D. Wigmore Fine Art, Inc. announces the opening of Connecting Cubism to an American Narrative, an exhibition featuring William and Lucy L’Engle, American Modernists and disciples of Cubism. The couple’s history as artists in Paris, New York, and Provincetown provides a unique chance to present the transfer of the Cubist style from Europe to America through their paintings. Additional examples by American artists who participated in Cubism’s transformation in America including John Marin, Alfred Maurer, Max Weber, and Marguerite Zorach expand the story.

William and Lucy (née Brown) L’Engle were pioneer Modernists, part of a generation of artists working abroad in the years immediately following the public debut of Cubism in Paris in 1908. William L’Engle (1884-1957) arrived in Paris in 1909 at the age of 25 with a degree in Naval Architecture from Yale and evening classes at the Art Students League in New York. Among his classmates at the League in 1907-08 were Georgia O’Keeffe and Blanche Lazzell. In Paris William studied at the Académie Julian and at the École des Beaux-Arts. Lucy Brown (1889-1978) studied with Charles Hawthorne in Provincetown in 1909 and then for a year in 1911-12 at the Art Students League before going to Paris at the age of 23 to study at the Académie Julian in 1913. The couple met soon after Lucy arrived in Paris and married in 1914. Cubism was then in full force and the L’Engles expanded their academic training with trips to exhibitions such as the Salon d’Automne to see work by Albert Gleizes, Jean Metzinger, and Fernand Léger. The L’Engles most admired Albert Gleizes.

While William and Lucy were in Europe, the 1913 Armory Show in New York introduced the art world in America to Europe’s experiments in abstraction. Francis Picabia and Jean Crotti became the unofficial ambassadors of the French Modernists to the exhibition when they came to New York for the show. Soon with the onset of war, Picabia and Crotti would be joined in New York by Albert Gleizes and Marcel Duchamp. Europe’s expatriated Modernists ushered in a period of experimentation in America.

Like other American artists based in Europe in the early Teens, William and Lucy L’Engle returned to America with the onset of war in Europe. The couple left France after the birth of their first daughter in March of 1915. In New York, William and Lucy L’Engle found European-born Modernist forces had preceded them with exhibitions at Alfred Steiglitz’s 291 Gallery and the salons held by the Arensbergs.

Further connections to the New York art scene came through William’s first solo exhibition in November 1920 at Kingore Galleries on Fifth Avenue. Kingore Galleries held exhibitions of American and European Modernists organized by Christian Brinton, who worked closely with Katherine Dreier to establish the Société Anonyme. Kingore Galleries in fact held exhibitions for the group after its own gallery shut down in 1923. The timing of William’s solo exhibition, just a few months before the Société Anonyme formed, demonstrates the L’Engles’ involvement in New York’s avant-garde. The L’Engles spent their summers in Provincetown from 1916 onwards. The first summer the art colony was just becoming a gathering place for American Modernists. Fellow Modern artists who came to Provincetown in the Teens included: William and Marguerite Zorach, Marsden Hartley, Charles Demuth, Blanche Lazzell, Arthur Dove, George Ault, and Niles Spencer. The theater group The Provincetown Players held their first performances in 1915 and were in full swing the summer of 1916 when the L’Engles arrived. That fall, they also performed for the first time in New York. Lucy L’Engle and the Zorachs provided costume and stage sets, in addition to some acting. Albert Gleizes attended the group’s early New York performances, offering a connection for the L’Engles to Gleizes in New York.

The L’Engles returned to France in 1923, spending the summer in Cavalaire, a seaside town in the South of France, where Albert Gleizes and his wife were regular visitors. The couple returned to Paris with Gleizes in the fall for Lucy to formally study with the pre-eminent Cubist. Lucy continued to study with Gleizes through the winter of 1924 along with fellow Provincetowner Blanche Lazzell. Lucy was one of six Americans included in L’Art Aujourd’hui, a 1925 Paris exhibition of the Cubist Masters including Braque, Delaunay, Gris, Léger, Metzinger, Picasso, Villon and their students.

In the 1930s many artists felt the need to focus their art on the realities of America’s economic depression and the approaching war in Europe. Growing nationalism worked against international abstraction and fostered the narrative styles of Regionalism and Social Realism, which would dominate the American art scene until 1945. The L’Engle’s work of this period reflects a compromise between the abstraction of Cubism and traditional Realism. The assimilation of ideas, procedures, and new skills required time, pauses, and consolidation. Not every Modernist adapted in the same way, but artists were sensitive to their environment and there were real rewards and penalties for pursuing a particular direction in style. In America, Cubist disciples like the L’Engles found the Cubist-Realist style allowed them to continue to experiment with abstracted arrangements while remaining literal enough to be accessible to the viewer. With this style, the L’Engles could use Cubism’s geometric construction and organization, its principles of rotation, and its interplay of form and void to paint the kind of narrative art with figures, architecture, landscapes or interiors which appealed to the American public.

The exhibition includes both a European Cubist inspired and an American Scene influenced work by John Marin, Henry Lee McFee, Abraham Walkowitz, Max Weber, and Marguerite Zorach. The variety of approaches to Modernism, the different European Masters each artist selected as an influence, and the adjustments to individual style and content of each artist’s work after an extended time in America can be witnessed in the paintings selected. After an early exposure to Cubism, these American artists evolved or shifted their style in response to prolonged exposure to American life as fully matured artists commanding nuanced vocabularies of ideas and procedures. No doubt the independence of spirit fostered by the American environment helped each artist to evolve in a way that best suited his art.

D. Wigmore Fine Art | New York | Connecting Cubism to an American Narrative |

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