The generation of American artists born in the 1880s—including Charles Sheeler [http://www.mfa.org/search/collections?artist=Charles%20Sheeler], Charles Demuth [http://www.mfa.org/search/collections?artist=Charles%20Demuth], and Patrick Henry Bruce [1990.386]—found their greatest inspiration...
The generation of American artists born in the 1880s—including Charles Sheeler [http://www.mfa.org/search/collections?artist=Charles%20Sheeler], Charles Demuth [http://www.mfa.org/search/collections?artist=Charles%20Demuth], and Patrick Henry Bruce [1990.386]—found their greatest inspiration in the work of the French modernists Paul Cézanne [http://www.mfa.org/search/collections?artist=Paul%20C%C3%A9zanne] and Henri Matisse [http://www.mfa.org/search/collections?artist=Henri%20Matisse]. For many of the artists of the next generation, born, like Ilya Bolotowsky, shortly after the turn of the century, a critical stimulus was the art of the Spanish Surrealist Joan Miró [1980.273] and the Dutch master of geometric abstraction Piet Mondrian [2009.5042]. The dedication of these younger painters to nonrepresentational art set them apart from the Social Realist and Regionalist artists who dominated the art scene in the United States in the 1930s with their politically charged figural compositions. Bolotowsky, whose family was forced to flee Russia and came to the United States via Constantinople in 1923, was among the most talented of these abstract painters. Bolotowsky studied at the National Academy of Design in New York. Like so many young artists who began their careers at the outbreak of the Depression, his first work as a professional artist was produced for the Federal Government’s Public Works of Art Project; by the mid-1930s he was painting abstract murals for the Works Progress Administration in New York. He was a founding member of the American Abstract Artists group in 1936, established to promote nonobjective art, and his work from this period often included free-floating, Miró-like lines and biomorphic shapes. By the 1940s, however, Bolotowsky’s style changed again, now reflecting the influence of Mondrian. Spiral Movement (Small Configurations within a Diamond), with its diamond shape and lively grids of small blocks of primary color, is particularly reminiscent of Mondrian’s celebrated Broadway Boogie Woogie (1942–43, Museum of Modern Art, New York), which the Dutch artist painted and exhibited shortly after his immigration to the United States. Bolotowsky not only absorbed the formal ideas in Mondrian’s pictures but also subscribed to the search for purity, for universal significance—for a kind of aesthetic utopia—that was behind those pictures. For Bolotowsky, this striving came out of personal experience. As he stated in a 1974 interview, “After I went through a lot of violent historical upheavals in my early life, I came to prefer a search for an ideal harmony and order which is still a free order, not militaristic, not symmetrical, not goose-stepping, not academic.”  Notes 1. Louise Averill Svendsen and Mimi Poser, “Interview with Ilya Bolotowsky,” in Ilya Bolotowsky, by Ilya Bolotowsky, exh. cat. (New York: Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 1974), 32. This text was adapted from Elliot Bostwick Davis et al., American Painting [http://www.mfashop.com/9020398034.html], MFA Highlights (Boston: MFA Publications, 2003).
Bottom right center: Ilya Bolotowsky
1951, the artist. By 1980, Joan Washburn Gallery, Inc., New York; 1980, sold by the Joan Washburn Gallery to the MFA. (Accession Date: June 18, 1980)
Tompkins Collection—Arthur Gordon Tompkins Fund
© Estate of Ilya Bolotowsky/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY