Jean-Louis Delaunay and Richard Riss have confirmed the authenticity of this work.
The Eiffel Tower is one of Robert Delaunay’s most celebrated motifs. Delaunay was four years old when the Eiffel Tower was erected in the Parisian military parade ground, Champ de Mars, completed to serve as the entrance arch to the Exposition Universelle in 1899. “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” (B. Cendrars, quoted in A.A. Cohen, ed., “The Eiffel Tower” in Visions of Paris: Robert Delaunay’s Series, exh. cat., Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 1998, p. 171). While recovering from a broken leg in a room at the Hôtel de Paris, Cendrars had a clear view of the Eiffel Tower. “Delaunay came almost every day to keep me company,” Cendrars later recalled. “He was always haunted by the Tower. 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. 174-175).
While it was then the tallest man-made structure in the world, the very beacon of modernity, it was not until Delaunay first painted it in 1909 that the Tower attracted the attention of the early twentieth century modernist avant-garde. Through his jewel-toned, faceted painting, Delaunay conveyed the dynamic, soaring architecture of the Eiffel Tower and the boundless optimism of La Belle Epoque.
The turn of the twentieth century was a time of peace, technological invention and artistic innovation. The Eiffel Tower was the epitome of this “beautiful era,” evoking the exuberance and progress of the generation on the brink of modernization, a blaze of light against an antiquated, gray city. Delaunay was heard to have commented, “The Eiffel Tower—barometer of my art” (quoted in G. Vriesen and M. Imdhal, Robert Delaunay: Light and Color, New York, 1967, p. 28). Such was the all-consuming importance of this subject between 1910 and 1912, which galvanized and launched a visionary streak in this young man’s imagination. At only twenty-five years old, Delaunay became absorbed with representing this embodiment of modernity and progress, and he painted it prolifically until the beginning of the First World War.
It was Delaunay’s practice to date all works pertaining to a theme with the year of the series’ inception—1910 for the Towers—and so it appears inscribed on the sheet of the present work, as noted in the 1998 Guggenheim Museum exhibition catalogue (ibid., pp. 32 and 35). In writing about the present work, Arthur Cohen stressed the variety in Delaunay’s treatment of the tower and its surroundings. He writes that the present work “shows more clearly the evolution of Delaunay’s thinking…The right side and upper portion of the Eiffel Tower have been completed and the curtain motif at the upper right is more pronounced” (ibid., p. 34). The curtain on the right acts as a repoussoir device, drawing the viewer into the work and directing their focus to the crimson iron tower. The curtain is beautifully integrated into the composition—echoing the elliptical paths reverberating outwards from the tower’s base, which in turn, mirror the Eiffel Tower’s steep arches—although it is rarely used in Delaunay’s painting.
Delaunay was furthering the developments made by such artistic pioneers as Georges Seurat—who himself had painted the Eiffel Tower some years earlier—and Paul Cézanne. Both Seurat’s and Cézanne’s works had been prominently exhibited in Paris during in shows which had a watershed effect on several of the artists at the time, and confirmed to Delaunay the importance of dissecting his subject before reassembling and subsequently painting it. Unlike his Cubist colleagues, absorbed in the perception and analysis of static objects in space, who limited themselves to muted colors and a restricted range of traditional subjects (mostly still lifes, landscapes, and portraits), Delaunay combined a Cubist treatment of form with an interest in color theory and a fascination with contemporary subjects. In this painting, Delaunay brilliantly adapted the Cubist vocabulary of faceted and fragmented forms to render the transparent and seemingly weightless structure of the tower, as well as to evoke the sense of excitement many experienced at the dawn of a new age of technological marvels. Delaunay’s painting conveys this feeling of boundless optimism, the innocence and freshness of a time that had not yet witnessed the two world wars and the destructive potential of this same technology.
La Tour simultanée is dedicated to Herwarth Walden, who began the world-renowned weekly literary and artistic journal Der Sturm the same year the present work was executed. Walden named his journal Der Sturm after the way modern art was penetrating Germany. The magazine would publish Delaunay’s works and when Walden opened Galerie Der Sturm in 1912,
his gallery would in turn exhibited Delaunay’s work. Arthur Cohen interprets the inscription “La Tour simultanée,” as a further connection to “Delaunay’s interest in simultaneity with the Eiffel Tower paintings of this period” (ibid., p. 34). When Galerie Barbazanges exhibited Robert Delaunay’s Eiffel Tower series in the winter of 1912, poet and critic, Guillaume Apollinaire, described Delaunay’s works in a review as “unfinished, whether by design or accident” (G. Apollinaire, quoted in Art Institute of Chicago: The Essential Guide, 2013, p. 252). Apollinaire would later refer to Delaunay’s virgin territory as a new frontier of “pure painting,” a dynamic simultaneity of contrasts in color forms. He claimed “The pen and ink Eiffel Towers must be considered Delaunay’s most important known drawings. These studies show how Delaunay attacked the problem of dovetailing the object disintegrating in light” (quoted in
G. Vriesen and M. Imdhal, op. cit., p. 30). As Delaunay stated, “I have attempted an architecture in color, in the hope of realizing the enthusiasms…This effort depends totally upon technique...One must begin with the simple, with the living form, with the germ of the moment” (op. cit., p. 37). It was in this manner, as demonstrated in La Tour simultanée, that Delaunay experienced his epiphany of pure painting, the most potently modern form of painting in the new century, by which he helped to reveal the brave new world of abstract, non-objective art.