12" x 16"
Simple Level / 200 waterjet cut pieces
Moderate Level / 266 waterjet cut pieces
Difficult Level / 491 waterjet cut pieces
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In the early 1900s, Saÿen was an engineer and inventor in Philadelphia known for his work on the first X-ray machine. After studying painting in the U.S., he went on to learn from Matisse in Paris and joined Gertrude Stein’s circle which forever changed his way of thinking. His curiosity can be seen in this collage-like study for one of his final paintings The Thundershower. In this work, two figures move fluidly like the frames of a filmstrip with a European Cubist-like approach contrasted by bold patterns influenced by the pottery and textile designs of the Indigenous communities in Pennsylvania. He died in his early 40s at the brink of the Machine Age and before the impact of his work could really take root in the history of art.
In 1970, art critic Hilton Kramer, The New York Times, responded to seeing this work for the first time:
“The history of European and American avant garde in the early years of this century is so familiar to us in the routine chronologies of museum collections, art books and college courses that we tend, mistakenly, to believe there are no more discoveries to be made. And then, out of the blue, we are obliged to confront a new name, a new career and a new oeuvre of whose existence we had never had an inkling.
Such experiences are admittedly rare, but we are now being offered one in the exhibition of paintings by Henry Lyman Sayen at the National Collection of Fine Arts in Washington. It is the kind of exhibition that, on a certain modest scale, will require some revisions in the standard histories of modern American art.”
Artwork Credit: Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of H. Lyman Sayen to his nation; photo courtesy Smithsonian Open Access, CC0.