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Joaquín Torres-García, Uruguayan, 1874 - 1949

Made in France, Europe


Pigments in aqueous medium on burlap

32 x 39 7/16 inches (81.3 x 100.2 cm)

© Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

Curatorial Department:
European Painting

* Gallery 188, Modern and Contemporary Art, first floor (Brodsky Gallery)

Accession Number:

Credit Line:
A. E. Gallatin Collection, 1952

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This work is one of the first examples of Torres-García's "Universal Constructivism," a style of painting that combined a gridlike, abstract structure with symbolic images. The icons embedded in the creamy beige ground include a fish, a ladder, several clocks, a man and a woman, and what looks to be a steam locomotive, further suggested by the letters "EXPR" (perhaps short for "express").

Additional information:
  • PublicationTwentieth-Century Painting and Sculpture in the Philadelphia Museum of Art

    Torres-García painted Composition in the same year he met Mondrian in Paris. The artist's exposure to Mondrian's powerful, abstract canvases had an immediate impact upon his work, which had previously consisted of a figurative style inspired by African and pre-Columbian art. In this painting, Torres-García retained the gridded structure of Mondrian's flat, geometric paintings but enlivened each compartmentalized rectangle with a superimposed figurative motif. The schematic imagery embedded in the creamy beige ground includes a fish, a ladder, several clocks, a man and a woman, architectural features, and what looks like a steam locomotive, all delicately shaded with pink, blue, and yellow bars to suggest a shallow relief. The letters "EXPR" (perhaps short for "express," given the visual suggestion of the train) recall the collage fragments of newspaper lettering in Cubist compositions.

    Torres-García saw the integration of symbol and grid as a humanistic response to Mondrian's aesthetic. He set out to develop a personal system of signs drawn from a wide range of sources, including indigenous Inca masonry and Peruvian textiles, architecture, and ceramics, so that his paintings could be read as a kind of pictograph or hieroglyphic text. Composition is one of the earliest known examples of "Universal Constructivism," as the artist called this style of painting, defined by him in an essay published in 1930 in the first issue of the Parisian magazine Cercle et Carré ("Circle and Square"): "a work of art must not represent nature but exist as the concrete embodiment of an idea. It must be self-contained, defined by its own order and inner rhythms."1 Twentieth Century Painting and Sculpture in the Philadelphia Museum of Art (2000), p. 68.

    1) Joaquín Torres-García, "Vouloir construire," Cercle et Carré, no. 1 (March 15, 1930), n.p.; quoted in The Planar Dimension: Europe, 1912–1932, by Margit Rowell (New York: The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, 1979), p. 96.


With Galerie Pierre, Paris, by 1934; sold to A. E. Gallatin, New York, June 1934 [1]; bequest to PMA, 1952. 1. As per letter of October 27, 1934, from Gallatin to Torres-Garcia, cited by Gail Stavitsky, The Development, Institutionalization, and Impact of the A. E. Gallatin Collection of Modern Art [Ph. D. dissertation, New York University], 1990, v. 9, p. 279.

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