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Joseph Stella

Born: 1877, Muro Lucano, Italy
Died: 1946, Astoria, New York, United States of America

Telegraph Poles with Buildings
1917

Oil on canvas
Overall: 36 1/4 x 30 1/4in. (92.1 x 76.8cm)
Frame: 43 1/2 x 37 1/2in. (110.5 x 95.3cm)
Terra Foundation for American Art, Daniel J. Terra Collection, 1999.139
Signed: Lower right: Joseph Stella
Inscribed: Inscribed on verso: Painting/By/Joseph Stella
Artist Name: []

Interpretation

Joseph Stella’s Telegraph Poles with Buildings is at once a relatively objective glimpse of America’s industrial landscape and an evocation through formal means of its tension, beauty, and brooding mystery. Stella’s landscape of factory plants and smokestacks, wreathed by rhythmic curls of heavy dark smoke, is dominated by the rigid form of the silhouetted telegraph pole, its height emphasized by the composition’s low horizon and vertical format. With its branching web of horizontal and diagonal wires, the pole’s linear geometry is in tension with the rounded cloudforms and soft tints of the sky beyond, the only natural element in this “landscape” of industrial structures that mimic familiar forms of mountains and trees. Stella imagined telegraph wires as symbolically vibrating with the possibilities of the future. With both abstract and representational elements, his painting captures the combination of awe, passion, and dread with which the industrial landscape inspired many of his artistic contemporaries.

Since working as a magazine illustrator in the late 1900s, Stella had been fascinated with the wholly new landscapes created by industrialism and urbanism, man-made worlds that symbolized America as the land of the future—in contrast to his native Italy, a place of the past. The work of European avant-garde artists Stella encountered early in his career inspired his search for formal means and subjects that would capture the spiritual as well as the visual essence of modern America and the feelings it inspired in him. Having created a sensation with his colorful, kaleidoscopic, swirling impressions of New York’s Coney Island amusement park, Stella turned in the late 1910s to more purely industrial subjects, notably the Brooklyn Bridge. Telegraph Poles with Buildings is among the earliest and the most clearly representational of these works, which utilize the rigid geometry of utilitarian structures and a somber palette to evoke the brooding power of their subjects.

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Provenance

The artist
Bertram O'Rourke, Staten Island, New York
Sotheby's New York, New York, October 25, 1979, lot 197
James Maroney, Inc., New York, New York, 1979
Mr. and Mrs. Rolf Weinberg, Zurich, Switzerland
Daniel J. Terra Collection, Chicago, Illinois, 1986
Terra Foundation for the Arts Collection, Chicago, Illinois, 1999

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Exhibition History

'Rot konstruiert' und 'Super Table:' Eine Schweizer Sammlung moderner Kunst, 1909–1939, Kunstmuseum, Winterthur, Switzerland (organizer). Venue: Kunstmuseum, Winterthur, Switzerland, March 12–April 13, 1980. [exh. cat.]

A Proud Heritage: Two Centuries of American Art, Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois (organizer). Venue: Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois, April 21–June 21, 1987. [exh. cat.]

Selections from the Permanent Collection: Americans at Home and Abroad, Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois (organizer). Venue: Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois, November 6–29, 1987.

Visions of Tomorrow: New York and American Industrialization in the 1920s–1930s, International Sculpture Center, Hamilton, New Jersey (organizer). Venues: Isetan Museum of Art, Tokyo, Japan, April 21–May 9, 1988; Daimaru Museum of Art, Osaka, Japan, May 19–June 7, 1988; Fukuoka Prefectural Museum of Art, Fukuoka, Japan, July 15–August 15 1988; Tochigi Prefectural Museum of Fine Arts, Utsunomiya, Japan, August 27–October 2, 1988. [exh. cat.]

Joseph Stella Retrospective, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, New York (organizer). Venue: Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, New York, April 21–September 18, 1994. [exh. cat.]

Visions of a Nation: Exploring Identity through American Art, Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois (organizer). Venue: Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois, August 10, 1996–January 12, 1997.

L'Amérique et les modernes, 1900–1950 (American Moderns, 1900–1950) Musée d'Art Américain Giverny, France (organizer). Venue: Musée d'Art Américain Giverny, France, July 25–October 31, 2000. [exh. cat.]

Selections from the Permanent Collection: Two Centuries of American Art, Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois (organizer). Venue: Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois, March 10–July 1, 2001.

American Moderns, Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois (organizer). Venue: Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois, July 14–October 7, 2001.

American Classics: Selections from the Terra Foundation for the Arts, Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois (organizer). Venue: Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois, January 26–September 1, 2002.

Collection Cameo, Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois, June 2002.

Paris-New York, Roundtrip. American Modernism in the Making, 1875–1940. Works from the Terra Foundation for the Arts and the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens (Paris-New York, aller-retour. Une Modernité américaine en formation, 1875–1940. Oeuvres des collections de la Terra Foundation for the Arts et des Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens), Musée d'Art Américain Giverny, France (organizer). Venue: Musée d'Art Américain Giverny, France, September 15–November 30, 2002. [exh. cat.]

A Place on the Avenue: Terra Museum of American Art Celebrates 15 Years in Chicago, Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois (organizer). Venue: Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois, November 16, 2002–February 16, 2003 (on exhibit extended run: November 2, 2002–March 2, 2003).

American Classics, Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois (organizer). Venue: Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois, December 13, 2003–February 8, 2004.

A Narrative of American Art, Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois (organizer). Venue: Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois, February 13–October 31, 2004.

Expanded Galleries of American Art with Loans from the Terra Foundation for American Art Collection, The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois, April 15, 2005–February 2010.

La Ville Magique (The Magical City), Lille Métropole Musée d'Art Moderne d'Art Contemporain et d'Art Brut, Lille, France (organizer). Venue: Lille Métropole Musée d'Art Moderne d'Art Contemporain et d'Art Brut, Lille, France, September 29, 2012–January 15, 2013. [exh. cat.]

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Published References

Art in America 67:6 (October 1979): 37. Ill. p. 37 (black & white).

Sotheby's New York, New York (October 25, 1979): lot 197. Ill. lot 197 (color).

Art in America 67:8 (December 1979): 18. Ill. p. 18 (color).

Staber, Margit and Rudolf Koella. "Rot konstruiert" und "Super Table:" Eine Schweizer Sammlung moderner Kunst, 1909–1939. (exh. cat., Kunstmuseum, Winterthur, Switzerland). Winterthur, Switzerland: Kunstmuseum Winterthur, 1980. Text p. 86; ill. p. 87 (color).

Artner, Alan G. “Pletos Pieces Together an Innocent Vision.” The Chicago Tribune (July 11, 1986). Accessed February 21, 2017. http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1986-07-11/entertainment/8602190613_1_art-notes-brenda-richardson-snakes.

Atkinson, D. Scott et al. A Proud Heritage: Two Centuries of American Art. Edited by Terry A. Neff. (exh. cat., Terra Museum of American Art). Chicago, Illinois: Terra Foundation for the Arts, 1987. Pl. T-167, p. 276 (color).

Visions of Tomorrow: New York and American Industrialization in the 1920s–1930s. (exh. cat., International Sculpture Center). Tokyo, Japan: The Mainichi Newspapers, 1988. Text p. 63; ill. p. 63 (black & white).

Southgate, M. Therese. "The Cover." The Journal of the American Medical Association 263, no. 9 (March 2, 1990): 1255. Text p. 1255; ill. cover (color).

Moser, Joann. "Visual Poetry: The Drawings of Joseph Stella." The Magazine Antiques 138, no. 5 (November 1990): 1060–73. Text p. 1063; pl. I, pp. 1060–61 (color).

Gerdts, William H. et al. Lasting Impressions: American Painters in France, 1865–1915. (exh. cat., Musée d'Art Américain Giverny). Chicago, Illinois: Terra Foundation for the Arts, 1992. Text p. 108; fig. 107, p. 108 (black & white).

Gerdts, William H. et al. Impressions de toujours: les peintres américains en France, 1865–1915. (exh. cat., Musée d'Art Américain Giverny). Chicago, Illinois: Terra Foundation for the Arts, 1992. Text p. 108; fig. 107, p. 108 (black & white).

Cartwright, Derrick R. and Paul J. Karlstrom. American Moderns, 1900–1950. (exh. cat., Musée d'Art Américain Giverny). Chicago, Illinois: Terra Foundation for the Arts, 2000. Pl. 29, p. 57 (color).

Cartwright, Derrick R. and Paul J. Karlstrom. L'Amérique et les modernes, 1900–1950. (exh. cat., Musée d'Art Américain Giverny). Chicago, Illinois: Terra Foundation for the Arts, 2000. Pl. 29, p. 57 (color).

Snodgrass, Susan A. Telegraph Poles with Buildings, Joseph Stella. Collection Cameo sheet, Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois, June 2002. Ill. (color).

Sotheby's New York, New York (May 21, 2003): 20. Text p. 20; fig. 1, p. 20 (color).

Davidson, Susan, ed. Art in the USA: 300 años de innovación. (exh. cat., Guggenheim Museum Bilbao). New York, NY: Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation; Chicago, IL: Terra Foundation for American Art, 2007. (Spanish version). Ill. p. 154 (color).

La Ville Magique. (exh. cat., Lille Métropole Musée d'Art Moderne d'Art Contemporain et d'Art Brut). Lille, France: Lille Métropole Musée d'Art Moderne d'Art Contemporain et d'Art Brut and Editions Gaillmard, 2012. Ill. cat. no. 31, p. 50 (color).

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