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Tondo Variation in Red

1978 Ilya Bolotowsky Born: St. Petersburg, Russia 1907 Died: New York, New York 1981 acrylic on canvas 39 1/4 in. (99.8 cm) diam. Smithsonian American Art Museum Gift of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters through its Hassam and Speicher Purchase Fund 1979.11 Not currently on view

Luce Center Quote

“Straight lines . . . within a round format . . . are affected by the edges . . . It results in an almost vibrating effect that you do not get in a rectangular canvas.” Bolotowsky, interviewed by Svendsen and Poser, Ilya Bolotowsky, 1974

Exhibition Label

At the University of Wyoming, where he taught after serving in the Army Air Corps during World War II, Bolotowsky met a farmer who gave him several wagon wheels. He stretched canvas over the wheels’ rims and called these round paintings tondos, as a reference to the circular paintings of Raphael. For the next twenty years, he experimented with the optical effects posed by this round format. In Tondo Variation in Red horizontal white lines support the dark red shape in the upper half of the canvas, while another vertical red plane bounded by a straight, blue band anchors the reds and keeps the canvas from appearing to roll to the left.

Modern Masters: Midcentury Abstraction from the Smithsonian American Art Museum, 2008

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Ilya Bolotowsky began painting on circular canvases in the 1940s, when a group of Wyoming ranchers gave him some old wagon wheels to use as frames. Here, he painted bright white stripes on a red background to emphasize the contrast between the curved edge of the painting and the perfectly straight lines and right angles within. The planes of color suggest complete shapes that extend beyond the edge of the canvas. In this way, the artist evoked a larger picture than actually exists, encouraging us to imagine the entire geometric pattern. (Bolotowsky, interviewed by Svendsen and Poser, Ilya Bolotowsky, 1974)


Abstract - geometric


paint - acrylic

fabric - canvas

About Ilya Bolotowsky

Born: St. Petersburg, Russia 1907 Died: New York, New York 1981

More works in the collection by
Ilya Bolotowsky