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Episodes from an Unwritten History: Claude Bragdon and Fritz Trautmann

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Mathematical Abstraction No. 6 "Split complementary"

ca. 1939-1941
28 x 20 in. (71.1 x 50.8 cm)

Claude Fayette Bragdon
American (Oberlin, OH, 1866 - 1946, New York, NY)

Object Type: Watercolor
Medium and Support: Watercolor, graphite, charcoal and red colored pencil
Credit Line: Transfer from Department of Rare Books & Special Collections, Rush Rhees Library
Accession Number: 1984.57
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Location: Not currently on view

Bragdon’s Mathematical Abstractions is a set of images based on mathematical relationships and suggestive of cosmic forms in the solar system. This series grew out of Bragdon’s continued interest in uniting color, form, and music. The series was exhibited in 1941-42 in Hartford, New York City, and finally in Rochester at the Memorial Art Gallery. The Mathematical Abstractions were best described by the artist in the 1941-42 exhibition brochure:

"These fifteen water-color paintings represent the final distillation of Mr. Bragdon’s creative ability in a field which he has made his own. Although susceptible of classification as non-representational, or non-objective art, they are unique by reason of the fact that Mr. Bragdon is a skilled mathematician and geometer as well as an artist. He does not wish these paintings to be viewed, however, from any other standpoint than that of their intrinsic beauty—their purely aesthetic appeal. He believes that mathematical truth is at the root of all beauty, and that in the same sense that music may be said to be the beauty of mathematics made audible, so are these paintings mathematics made visible. After having made many hundred drawings, Mr. Bragdon made the paintings here and now exhibited, which from one point of view might be regarded as so many 'stills' of color symphonies seen by the author 'in his mind’s eye.'

One of the pioneers in the new art of Color Music, Mr. Bragdon has from far back employed his spare time and his spare money in the construction of one “color-organ” after another, in which it was his idea to add luminosity, color, rhythm, mobility, to his designs derived from mathematical sources. Convinced, after many failures, that the most satisfactory way in which this might be accomplished was by the animated cartoon technique, he made a study of it with this in view, and tried to interest the moving picture people in his idea. None of them were prepared, however, to invest the necessary amount of money in what they regarded as an uncertain venture. Walt Disney, meantime, a free agent, with the means at his disposal, had gone ahead and in certain parts of “Fantasia”—notably in the “sound-track” sequence—approximated some of the color-music effects which Mr. Bragdon had had in mind."

Excerpt from Mathematical Abstractions exhibition brochure, 1941-42


[Gallery label text, 2010]

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Artist's signature, lower right: Claude Bragdon '41

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Episodes from an Unwritten History: Claude Bragdon & Fritz Trautmann Brochure accompanying an exhibition at the Memorial Art Gallery from August 13-December 12, 2010.


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