This work will be included in Patrick Bertrand's forthcoming catalogue raisonné of the work of Theodore Earl Butler.
One hundred years ago, on November 11, 1918, nations around the world celebrated the end of World War I when the armistice treaty was finally signed by the Allies and Germany “on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.” Thousands gathered in the streets of New York as the avenues exploded with a flurry of waving flags and bursts of confetti. Capturing the lively crowd and celebratory spirit in the shadow of the Flatiron Building in Madison Square Park, Theodore Earl Butler’s Armistice Day is a masterwork by the artist and a rousing commemoration of this momentous occasion as we celebrate its centenary anniversary.
Although born in Ohio, Butler spent much of his career abroad in France, where he became an intimate friend of Claude Monet at Giverny, and eventually married the famed French Impressionist’s step-daughter, Suzanne Hoschedé. During World War I, however, Butler returned to the United States to escape the turmoil on the continent, settling in New York from 1914 to 1921. Primarily employing himself with several important mural commissions, including for William H. Vanderbilt and Solomon R. Guggenheim, he also created easel paintings inspired by the sites of New York and the fervent American patriotism demonstrated around him after the United States officially joined the War. Like his contemporary Childe Hassam, and recalling the famed 1878 flag paintings of Monet, Butler was motivated to depict the Flag Day celebrations down Fifth Avenue in October 1918 as well as the Allies Day celebration shortly before the end of the War that fall.
In the present work, Butler captures the Armistice Day parades of November 1918, evoking the buoyant emotion and frenzied movement of the jubilant crowds expressing their relief at the end of the War. As Richard H. Love writes, Butler’s “urban scenes were also done in his typical broken-color style, yet in these we find considerable more bravura, a resumption as it were, of spontaneity, a quality of execution reflective of his response to the dynamism he depicted.” (Theodore Earl Butler: Emergence from Monet’s Shadow, Chicago, Illinois, 1985, p. 386) Indeed, in Armistice Day, the artist works with gestural, spontaneous brushwork to depict the waving American, French and British flags, the sparkle of confetti in the air and the teeming streets. The crowds themselves appear fully conveyed in spirit, yet in reality are painted with only a suggestive, almost pointillist application of pigment. As seen here, Love describes of a related work, “Like the mood which electrified the crowd, Butler’s execution is spontaneous, energetic, even nervous…Butler’s brushwork is daring to the point of abstraction.” (Theodore Earl Butler: Emergence from Monet’s Shadow, p. 390)
Balancing the unrestrained merriment at street level, Butler creates a steady focal point with the tower of the Flatiron Building, which also perhaps serves as a symbol of the nation still standing strong in the wake of the conflict. Incorporating these expressions of optimism into a work of monumental scale, Armistice Day memorializes an iconic event of American history in a manner which still strongly resounds with patriotic zeal a century later.