Jean-Louis Delaunay and Richard Riss have confirmed the authenticity of this work.
In his Premier Cahier, a compilation of writings dating from 1939-1940, Robert Delaunay called the Eiffel Tower “my barometer,” in the sense that this Paris landmark, an enduring symbol of pioneering modernity, had served him throughout his career as the subject in which he traced the evolution of his art (A.A. Cohen, ed., The New Art of Color: The Writings of Robert and Sonia Delaunay, New York, 1978, p. 23). The Tower was the motif that had guided Delaunay to the cutting edge of Cubism on the eve of the First World War, and it remained at the center of his pictorial world during the inter-war period. In preparation for the decorations that Delaunay had been commissioned to provide for the 1937 Paris Exposition Universelle, his final works, the artist painted Air, Fer, Eau, in which he placed the Three Graces of antiquity beneath the Eiffel Tower. The many pavilions of the Exposition likewise lay within the shadow of the great Tower.
The present bird’s-eye view of the Eiffel Tower, created with the aid of an aerial photograph, is one of two vantage points that Delaunay typically employed in his treatment of this motif during the 1920s. The alternative view is that which the artist studied from the ground, looking upward along one of the legs of the structure to the very tip of the spire. Whereas there are few things that may be suitable as meaningful secondary motifs in an empty sky, the downward view, placing the Tower at the center of a horizonless composition—flat all around in perfect adherence with the modernist concept of the picture plane—inspired numerous compositional possibilities. Seen from a northerly prospect, the present view shows the Champs-de-Mars extending into the distance, with its Bassin in the upper left corner.
Gustave Eiffel constructed his ironwork tower as the entrance arch to the 1889 Paris Exposition Universelle. Georges Seurat painted the Tower upon its completion (Hauke, no. 196). This landmark appears distantly in several landscapes of Paris suburbs that the Douanier Rousseau painted during 1890-1904 (Vallier, nos. 56, 157a and b). While then the tallest man-made structure in the world, and the pride of France, it was not until Delaunay first painted the Tower in 1909 that this subject attracted the interest of the early 20th century modernist avant-garde. “During the years 1910 and 1911,” the poet Blaise Cendrars wrote in 1924, “Robert Delaunay and I were possibly the only people in Paris to speak of machines and art and to have the vaguest awarenesss of the great transformation of the modern world” (“The Eiffel Tower” in ibid., p. 171).
While recovering from a broken leg in a room at the Hôtel du Paris, Cendrars had a clear view of the Eiffel Tower. “Delaunay came almost every day to keep me company,” the poet reminisced. “He was always haunted by the Tower... I was able to be present at an unforgettable drama: the struggle of one artist with a subject so completely new that he did not know how to seize and subdue it... As soon as I was able to go out, I accompanied Delaunay to see the Tower... Delaunay wanted nothing less than to show Paris all around her with the Tower situated in her midst. We tried every vantage point, from every angle, from all sides...Delaunay wanted to interpret it plastically. He disarticulated the Tower in order to get inside its structure. He truncated it and he tilted it in order to disclose all of its three hundred dizzying meters of height. He adopted ten points of view, fifteen perspectives—one part seen from above, another from below...from the height of a bird in flight, from the depths of the earth itself” (ibid., pp. 174 and 175).
This initial Tower series of 1911-1912 was the outcome of Delaunay’s transformative journey through Cubism, during which he experienced, as he later wrote, “Visions of catastrophic insight, prejudices, neurasthenias, neurosis, sweeping the old away; cosmic shakings, desire for the great cleanup, for burying the old, the past. Light deforms everything, breaks everything; no more geometry, Europe crumbles. Breath of madness (futurism before the theory): dislocation of the successive object. Planetary waves” (ibid., p. 13).
Delaunay retained the Eiffel Tower as the recognizable focal point in the nearly abstract Fenêtres series, painted in luminous veils of color, that followed. He had begun to push beyond the boundaries of Cubism—especially its practitioners’ essential preoccupation with the perception and analysis of static objects in space—towards a new frontier, a dynamic simultaneity of contrasts in color forms, a virgin territory that the poet and critic Apollinaire called “pure painting.” In 1913 Delaunay created the formes circulaires of his Soleil series and Le premier disque—widely regarded as the first abstract, non-representational painting—radical, revolutionary works in which, as the artist declared, “Painting becomes painting” (ibid., p. 36).
When Delaunay revived the Tower theme a decade later, following the end of the Great War, he reinstated his defining motif as a more coherently intact architectural representation, in keeping with the classicizing “return to order” of the 1920s. In reasserting the Eiffel Tower as a symbol of modernity, however, amid all the fascination his colleagues were then according to a distant ideal of a classical past, Delaunay was seeking to remind them of the key lessons they had once taken from pre-war innovations in form and color. The Tower once again takes up the entire height of the canvas, in an absolute synergy of the motif and its environment. In counterpoint to the modern city grid, the artist transformed the Tower and the surrounding gardens of the Champs-de-Mars into a kaleidoscopic effusion of curving and semi-spherical forms, including the legs and spire of the Tower itself, to create an abstract quilt of color zones. As if he had fired the sun’s rays through a prism, and commandeered the component hues for his colors, Delaunay rendered this vision of the Tower in the most heated chromatic contrasts that his oil paints were capable of producing.
In 1925 Jean Hans Arp and El Lissitzky requested that Delaunay contribute to their book Die Kunstismen, a compilation of the “isms” that were guiding the art of the day, with a statement from a leading exponent and illustrations of the artist’s work. Each entry was published in German, French, and English. Responding as the artist representing “Simultaneism”, his byword for more than a decade, Delaunay wrote: “Simultaneousness of color, simultaneous contrasts and every uneven proportion that results from color, as they are expressed in their representative movement: this is the only reality with which to construct a picture” (ibid., p. 75).