Tondo Variation in Red

  • Ilya Bolotowsky, Tondo Variation in Red, 1978, acrylic on canvas, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters through its Hassam and Speicher Purchase Fund, 1979.11

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
Luce Center Label

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)

Luce Object 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

Tondo Variation in Red
On View
Not on view.
39 1/4 in. (99.8 cm) diam.
Credit Line

Smithsonian American Art Museum

Gift of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters through its Hassam and Speicher Purchase Fund

Mediums Description
acrylic on canvas
  • Abstract – geometric
Object Number
Linked Open Data
Linked Open Data URI

More from artist

synthetic polymer: acrylic on paper
synthetic polymer: acrylic and pencil on paper
ca. 1970
screenprint on paper

More Artworks from the Collection

rhinestones, acrylic, and enamel on wood panel
painted and incised terra cotta with glazed ceramic "teeth"
acrylic on canvas
oil on canvas