Oil on canvas
28 x 34 inches
Wichita Art Museum, Museum purchase, Friends of the Wichita Art Museum
Currently on Display
About the Artwork
This stunning painting was executed in 1916 by the American artist Hugo Robus. It was, of course, as a sculptor that Robus earned the distinction for which he is so widely remembered today. Yet, during the early years of his career, he devoted his attention exclusively to painting, and his importance lies in the fact that he was among the early and more innovative American experimenters in abstraction who worked under the influence of French cubist doctrine coupled with German expressionist teaching.
One of the few paintings that Robus both signed and dated, is this work titled Horses. Here the viewer at first struggles to identify within the composition those forms that resemble a man and horses. Only on close searching do shapes emerge that are convincingly discernible. In no sense, however, is this painting intended to be imitatively representational for, instead, it is largely a record of the artist’s sensitive response to some situation which he had experienced and which stimulated the production of forms — the shapes, colors, directions and relationships — that we see on the canvas.
What are especially interesting are the fluid sculpturesque masses, the overlapping folds, the interplay of angles and curves and the exquisite colors and color tones that maintain their respective independence yet at the same time so closely interrelate, creating a kind of spectrum-like unity. Indeed, both the forms and the strong color patterns are clearly reminiscent of some of the early 20th century expressionist works that Robus had obviously come to know during an extended European sojourn just before World War I. At the same time, the merging of masses and the seeming fusion and interpenetration of figural masses with surrounding spaces together bring to mind the so-called “passage” device employed by the early French cubists, thus quite conclusively demonstrating that the extremely contemporary aesthetic tendencies that Robus had absorbed before his conversion to sculpture.
Hugo Robus was born in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1885. He attended the Cleveland School of Art and, in 1908, moved to New York City, where he studied at the National Academy of Design. Between 1912 and 1914, he studied in Paris. It was in 1920 that he shifted his efforts from painting to sculpture which almost exclusively commanded his attention for the remainder of his life. However, it was not until the early 1950s that he won the professional recognition which his skill and creative accomplishments deserved. Robus taught at Columbia University, The Brooklyn School of Art and at Hunter College. He died in New York City in 1964.