CHARLES ALSTON (1907 - 1977) Untitled (New York Cityscape).
Oil on linen canvas, circa 1948. 514x616 mm; 20 1/4x24 inches. Signed in oil, lower right.
Provenance: Brooklyn Museum, New York (deaccessioned); private collection, New York (2007).
This striking urban abstraction by Charles Alston is an important painting, a very scarce example of the artist's first foray into abstraction in the postwar period. In 1948, Alston had began working with Hale Woodruff on their two murals for the Golden State Mutual Life Insurance Company, Los Angeles. But Alston's transformation into an abstract painter had already began with his return to art studies. Attending at Pratt Institute from 1944-45, funded by the G.I. Bill, Alston was introduced to European modernism by instructors Charles Martin and Alexander Kostellow, a great follower of Vaclav Vytlacil. In addition to Vytlacil, Alston also began to incorporate the influences of Picasso and Léger into his painting - a clear departure from the realism of the Golden State murals which were completed in 1949.
This painting is closely related to Alston's other urban nocturne, Harlem at Night, oil on canvas, 1948, collection of the late Melvin Holmes. Both Alston and Norman Lewis shared a new vision of fragmented urban life against a dark, atmospheric ground. By 1950, Alston had completely adopted abstraction, and his Untitled, oil on canvas, 1950, entered in the national juried competition, America Painting Today, acquired by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1951. Jennings p. 23.