Jean-Louis Delaunay and Richard Riss have confirmed the authenticity of this work.
“Blériot–1914 A simultaneous solar disc. Creation of a constructive disc. Solar fireworks. Depth and life of the sun. Constructive mobility of the solar spectrum; dawn, fire, evolution of airplanes. Everything is roundness, sun, earth, horizons, intense plenitude of life, a poetry which one cannot render into language...The driving force in the picture. Solar strength and strength of the earth.”–Robert Delaunay
(A.A. Cohn, ed., The New Art of Color: The Writings of Robert and Sonia Delaunay, New York, 1978, pp. 14-15).
Between October 1913 and February 1914 Delaunay undertook a series of paintings in which he honored the achievement of the pioneering French aviator and airplane builder Louis Blériot, who had famously piloted his model XI monoplane across the English Channel, a trip of 22 miles (36.6 km) from Calais to Dover, on 25 July 1909.The Hommage à Blériot sequence culminated in the large definitive canvas that Delaunay inscribed and dedicated “‘premiers disques solaire simultané forme’ au grand constructeur Blériot” (Habasque, no. 140; Kunstmuseum Basel). According to plan, Delaunay exhibited this imposing picture at the Salon des Indépendants in the spring of 1914, a watershed event which proved to be the final halcyon harvest of modernist French art in Paris before the beginning of a cataclysmic World War, some five months hence.
The present Hommage à Blériot, subtitled Esquisse (“Study”), is intermediate in size between the version in the Musée de Grenoble (Habasque, no. 139) and the Kunstmuseum Basel’s Salon masterwork.The first of these three works on canvas, this Esquisse already incorporated the fundamental structuring of constituent motifs as they appear in the final Basel version.There also exists a preliminary watercolor executed during 1913-1914 (Habasque, no. 137; Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris), and an oil painting on paper (sold Sotheby’s New York, 5 November 2002, lot 24), a small replica of the final painting Delaunay showed in 1914 (exh. cat., op. cit., 2008, p. 36).The artist began in late 1913 a second large-format Hommage à Blériot, which he left unfinished; he later cut out and saved the lower part of the composition only.
The shapes of four aéroplanes are detectable in the present Hommage à Blériot, as they similarly appear in both the Basel and Grenoble paintings. At upper right is a “box-kite” biplane, of the early type which Blériot built during 1906, stemming from the rudimentary machine the Wright brothers invented and flew three years earlier. The other three are of later design; Blériot tested in November 1907 his model VII, in his signature monoplane configuration, the first successful aircraft of this kind. He unveiled the prototype of the Blériot XI, the model which he flew in his cross-Channel adventure, at the first Paris Aéro Salon, held in December of that year.
The design of the successful Blériot monoplanes represented the leading edge of industrial technology at that time. One such machine is parked at lower left in the present Hommage, while nearby ground crewmen move another into take-off position. A third monoplane ascends like a rocket toward the top edge, a modern Icarus attempting to defy gravity, leaving a whirling trail of luminous helices in its wake.Successive color discs along the left edge represent the setting sun. “Analysis of the sun disc at sunset in a deep, clear sky,” Delaunay described his Hommage à Blériot, “with countless electric prisms flooding the earth, from which airplanes arise” (P. Francastel and G. Habasque, ed., op. cit., 1957, p. 126).
“Sky over the cities, balloons, towers, airplanes,” Delaunay proclaimed. “All the poetry of modern life: that is my art” (ibid., p. 129). Between 1909 and 1913 he made the Eiffel Tower the central motif in his paintings, subjecting this landmark of modernity to a process of willful dismemberment; he called this phase his “époque de destruction.” “During the years 1910 and 1911,” the poet Blaise Cendrars wrote, “Robert Delaunay and I were possibly the only people in Paris to speak of machines and art, and to have the vaguest awareness of the great transformation of the modern world” (A.A. Cohen, ed., op. cit., 1978, p. 171).
In the paintings of the Fenêtres series, Delaunay commenced in 1912 his “époque de construction.” He reclaimed the power of color, which the cubists had largely abjured.“I made paintings that seemed like prisms compared to the Cubism my fellow artists were producing ...I was the heretic of Cubism” (quoted in Inventing Abstraction 1910-1925, exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2012, p. 74). Guillaume Apollinaire, writing in October 1912, noted that in the Fenêtres paintings “Delaunay silently invented an art of pure color. We are evolving toward an entirely new art that will be to painting...what music is to poetry.It will be an art of pure painting” (L.C. Breunig, ed., Apollinaire on Art, Boston, 2001, p. 261).
Plunging headlong into these uncharted waters, according primacy to color over form, Delaunay painted during 1913 the series of Formes circulaires, rendering in vivid, spectral hues the kaleidoscopic emanations of solar and lunar light. According to his wife, the Russian painter Sonia Delaunay-Terk, the artist actually stared into the sun, “then sought to throw on to the canvas what he saw with his eyes open and his eyes closed...He discovered spots in the form of discs” (quoted in exh. cat., op. cit., 2012, p. 75).
The visionary Formes circulaires culminated in the unprecedented abstract icon Le premier disque, painted in August 1913. “I tackled the problem of the very essence of painting,” Delaunay later recalled. “This earliest disc was a painted canvas where colors opposing each other had no reference to anything visible. The colors, through contrasts, were placed circularly and opposed one another...No more fruit dish, no more Eiffel Tower, no more streets...This is the cosmic, visual, positive—and real—poem...the birth of our splendid era” (A.A. Cohen, ed., op. cit., 1978, pp. 144 and 145).
“Simultaneous contrast ensures the dynamism of colors and their construction in the painting,” Delaunay wrote in 1912, as quoted by Apollinaire. “It is the most powerful means to express reality...the only reality one can construct though painting” (L.C. Breunig, ed., op. cit., 2001, p. 264). He extended the principle of simultaneity to encompass content as well as color and form; in Soleil, tour, aéroplane, 1913, a precursor to the Blériot paintings, the artist placed the Tour Eiffel, the Grande Roue de Paris, and a biplane amid his new formes circulaires (Habasque, no. 123; The Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo).
Delaunay commenced the Blériot series later that year, achieving in it the synthesis of circular forms, both cosmic and of human manufacture, from the disc of the sun to the spinning airplane propeller.“Homage to Blériot marks the high point and the temporary conclusion of a great phase in Delaunay’s work,” Gustav Vriesen stated. “[His] achievement of the years 1909 to 1914 not only determines his importance and position in the history of twentieth-century art, but also represents a far-reaching, seminal and continuing force” (Robert Delaunay: Color and Light, New York, 1969, p. 68).
“In the domain of the plastic,” Delaunay stated, “I have attempted an architecture in color, in the hope of realizing the enthusiasms, the states of dynamic poetry, while remaining uniquely within the plastic means themselves...One must begin with the simple, with the living form, with the germ of the moment” (A.A. Cohen, ed., op. cit., 1978, p. 37). And thus did Delaunay experience his epiphany of pure painting, the most potently modernist, visionary manifestation of pictorial invention in the new century, through which he was instrumental, together with a few others–Kandinsky, Kupka, Léger, Mondrian, and Picabia–in revealing the possibilities of the brave new world to be discovered in abstract, non-representational art.