Surprisingly—in retrospect, at least—the Eiffel Tower was only meant to stand for 20 years. Designed by Gustave Eiffel for the 1889 World’s Fair, the now-iconic tower was supposed to be torn down in 1909, but, since it doubled as a radio transmitter, the government decided to leave it standing. Since then, it has become visually synonymous with Paris and France. Its modernist, metallic structure went on to inspire numerous artists, not least of whom was French painter Robert Delaunay (1885–1941). Thanks to London gallery Dickinson, his monumental painting La Ville de Paris, la Femme et la Tour Eiffel (1925) is on view at TEFAF.
Delaunay, together with his wife, Sonia, earned his place in art history as a progenitor of Orphism, an artistic movement from the early 20th century that took inspiration from Cubism. Like the Cubists, Delaunay deconstructed conventional forms and sought to capture subjects from a plurality of perspectives. But where the Cubists often had a cold, analytical approach, Delaunay favored warm color palettes that gave voice to a more emotive vision.
Although Delaunay eventually turned to complete abstraction, his first few series of paintings reimagined monuments within the Parisian metropolis. The most famous of these relate to Delaunay’s admiration of the Eiffel Tower—a subject he returned to for at least 60 separate paintings. At over four meters tall, the canvas (actually, two connected canvases) at TEFAF stands as the largest of these explorations.
The tower dominates La Ville de Paris, la Femme et la Tour Eiffel. In the foreground stands a tall, nude woman, abstracted into flat planes of color. With her short hair and confident posture, the woman would seem to represent the growing number of liberated women in the 1920s. As one’s eyes move up the canvas, various aspects of the Parisian cityscape appear, beginning with a neoclassical architectural facade. The building is nearly blotted out by legs of the tower—suggesting, perhaps, the championing of modern industrialization over older values.
Notably, the top of the Eiffel Tower isn’t rendered; instead, it disappears into an ecstatic composition of pure, bright colors. The painting, in turn, becomes a symbol of optimism, capturing the tremendous tower as a monument to the possibilities of a new century.
Robert Delaunay’s La Ville de Paris, la Femme et la Tour Eiffel (1925) is on view at TEFAF, Maastricht, March 11–20, 2016.