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Stanton Macdonald-Wright papers, 1907-1973

Biographical Note

Stanton Macdonald-Wright (1890-1973) was the creator of a modernist style of painting based on pure spectral color known as chromatic abstraction or "Synchromism." He worked in New York and later primarily in Los Angeles.
Stanton Macdonald-Wright was born in 1890 in Charlottesville, Virginia. In 1900 the family moved to Santa Monica, California where they ran a seaside hotel. A few years later he took courses at the Art Students League in Los Angeles, studying under Warren T. Huges. His older brother was Willard Huntington Wright, a respected art critic who wrote Modern Painting: Its Tendency and Meaning (1915), upon which he collaborated with his younger brother Stanton, and The Future of Painting (1923), and later became a detective novelist under the name S. S. Van Dine.
At the age of seventeen, Stanton Macdonald-Wright married his first wife and moved to Paris where he immersed himself in European art and studied at the Sorbonne, the Académie Julian, the École des Beaux-Arts, and the Académie Colarossi. While in Europe he also befriended fellow American painter Morgan Russell and the two artists began working closely together. They studied with Canadian painter Percyval Tudor-Hart between 1911 and 1913 and were deeply influenced by their teacher's color theory, which connected the qualities of color to those of music. Together Macdonald-Wright and Russell developed a style of painting based on color and named it "Synchromism." They introduced their work in 1913 at the Der Neue Kuntsalon in Munich and in Paris at the Galerie Bernheim-Jeune. These exhibitions helped to establish Synchromism as an major influence in modern art well into the 1920s.
Stanton Macdonald-Wright and Morgan Russell returned to the United States eager to promote their work and theory. It was not long before the two separated, but both continued to work in the Synchromist style. Together, they held one more Synchromist exhibition in New York in 1916 which received significant critical support. Macdonald-Wright also participated in the prestigious 1916 "Forum Exhibition of Modern American Painters" in New York and exhibited his work at Alfred Stieglitz's famed 291 gallery in New York in 1917. Yet, financial success evaded him.
Macdonald-Wright moved to Santa Monica in 1918, where he taught and served as director of the Los Angeles Art Students League. In 1924 he published his instructive Treatise on Color. In 1927 he organized another joint exhibition with Morgan Russell at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, where he also exhibited five years later. He exhibited at the Oakland Art Gallery, the California Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco, Alfred Stieglitz's An American Place gallery in New York, and the Stendahl Galleries in Los Angeles. From 1935 to 1942 Macdonald-Wright served as director of the Works Progress Administration's Federal Art Project for Southern California, followed by a faculty position at the University of Southern California at Los Angeles where he taught for sixteen years.
In the late 1950s, Macdonald-Wright completed the Synchome Kineidoscope, a color and light projecting machine first envisioned by Macdonald-Wright and Morgan Russell as early as 1913.
Macdonald-Wright traveled extensively throughout the 1960s and early 1970s, spending time in Hawaii, Italy, and Japan. Macdonald-Wright married three times and died in California in 1973, at the age of 83.
This biographical note draws heavily on the Archives of American Art's West Coast Regional Collector Paul Karlstrom's collection description written upon acquisition of the papers.