Stanton MacDonald-Wright (July 8, 1890 – August 22, 1973), was a modern American artist. He was a co-founder of Synchromism, an early abstract, color-based mode of painting, which was the first American avant-garde art movement to receive international attention.
Stanton MacDonald-Wright was born in Charlottesville, Virginia in 1890. His first name, Stanton, was chosen to honor the women's rights activist Elizabeth Cady Stanton; he later hyphenated his last name after repeatedly being asked if he were related to the famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright. He spent a privileged adolescence in Santa Monica, California, where his father ran a seaside hotel. An amateur artist as well as a businessman, Macdonald-Wright's father encouraged his artistic development from a young age and secured him private painting lessons. Stanton's older brother, Willard Huntington Wright, was a writer and critic who gained international fame in the 1920s by writing the Philo Vance detective novels under the pseudonym S.S. Van Dine.
Married at the age of seventeen, Macdonald-Wright moved to Paris with his wife to immerse himself in European art and to study at the Sorbonne, the Académie Julian, the École des Beaux-Arts and the Académie Colarossi. He and fellow student Morgan Russell studied with Canadian painter Percyval Tudor-Hart between 1911 and 1913. They were deeply influenced by their teacher's color theory, which connected the qualities of color to those of music, as well as by the works of Delacroix, the Impressionists, Cézanne, and Matisse that placed a great emphasis on juxtapositions and reverberations of color. During these years MacDonald-Wright and Russell developed Synchromism (meaning "with color"), seeking to free their art form from a literal description of the world and believing that painting was a practice akin to music that should be divorced from representational associations. MacDonald-Wright collaborated with Russell in painting abstract "synchromies" and staged Synchromist exhibitions in Munich in June 1913, in Paris in October 1913, and in New York in March 1914. These established Synchromism as an influence in modern art well into the 1920s, though followers of other abstract artists (principally, the Orphists Robert and Sonia Delaunay) were later to claim that the Synchromists had merely borrowed the principles of color abstraction from Orphism, a point vehemently disputed by Macdonald-Wright and Russell. While in Europe, Macdonald-Wright met Matisse, Rodin, and Gertrude and Leo Stein. He and Russell returned to the United States hopeful of acclaim and financial success and were eager to promote their cause.
In 1915, Stanton's brother, by that time a respected editor and critic in the New York literary world, published one of the first and most comprehensive surveys of advanced art to appear in the United States. Secretly co-authored by Stanton, Modern Painting: Its Tendency and Meaning reviews the major art movements of the previous century from Manet to Cubism, praises the work of Cezanne (still largely unknown in the United States), and predicts a time, soon to come, when an abstract art of pure color will supplant realism. Synchromism itself, the subject of a lengthy, adulatory chapter, is presented as that desired end-point, the culmination of the modernist struggle, surpassing the work of "lesser Moderns" like Kandinsky and the Futurists; at no time does the author acknowledge his own brother as one of the two originators of that school of art.
About his work in this period, Macdonald-Wright commented, "I strive to divest my art of all anecdote and illustration and to purify it to the point where the emotions of the spectator will be wholly aesthetic, as when listening to good music....I cast aside as nugatory all natural representation in my art. However, I still adhered to the fundamental laws of compsiition (placements and displacements of mass, as in the human body in movement) and created my pictures by means of color-form, which, by its organization in three dimensions, resulted in rhythm."