OSVALDO LOUIS GUGLIELMI (1906–1956)
Oil on composition board, 10 x 8 in.
Signed (at lower left): Guglielmi
RECORDED: John Baker, O. Louis Guglielmi: A Retrospective Exhibition, exhib. cat. [New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Art Gallery, 1980–81], p. 32 fig. 58 illus.
EXHIBITED: The Museum of Modern Art, New York, American Realists and Magic Realists, 1943, p. 65 no. 114
EX COLL.: [Downtown Gallery, 1942]; to Dorothy C. Miller; private collection, until 2006
Tumblers was painted in 1942. The palette of Tumblers is consistent with Guglielmi’s earlier fondness for dark and subdued colors, but here they are bathed in a light that makes them appear lighter and livelier. The change of mood is reflected in Guglielmi’s statement of 1943: “My attitude towards painting today is to be clear, to be saturated with hope, to give the people a reason to live out of the debris of our years." Moreover, the central image in Tumblers is more René Magritte than Giorgio de Chirico, disjunctive in a fashion that evokes whimsy, rather than disquiet, eeriness or menace. The fun begins with the play on words. These “tumblers” are neither circus clowns nor drinking glasses, but dining side chairs in a jolly trio of American vernacular styles. Guglielmi’s urban background suggests that the animated chairs have mischievously escaped from a dark interior into the giddy freedom of sidewalk and sunshine.
It is no accident that Tumblers was shown in an exhibition that focused on realism and magic realism. The term magic realism was coined in 1925 by a German art critic, Franz Roh, to describe art and literature set against a backdrop of mundane subjects where the real world was portrayed, but altered and marvelous in ways that defy expectations and rationality. In 1942, Alfred Barr defined the phrase as “a term sometimes applied to the work of painters who by means of an exact realistic technique try to make plausible and convincing their improbable, dreamlike or fantastic visions” (from Painting and Sculpture in the Museum of Modern Art, 1942, as quoted in American Realists and Magic Realists, p. 5). The style gained significant popularity as a literary device used by writers including the Russian Mikhail Bulgakov (1891–1940), and the Argentinian Jorge Luis Borges (1899–1986), both cultural contemporaries of Guglielmi.
The photo image of Tumblers in the Downtown Gallery records has a handwritten note indicating that the work was sold to Dorothy C. Miller. Miller, a longtime Museum of Modern Art Curator, was the “Director of the Exhibition” of the 1943 Realism and Magic Realism show. The MoMA catalogue indicates that the picture was anonymously lent, making it reasonable to suppose that Miller already owned it when it was exhibited, since other works were listed as “lent by Downtown Gallery.”