Signed, dated, and inscribed (at lower right): WM. S. SCHWARTZ; (on the back): "THE PIONEERS” / BY / WM. S. SCHWARTZ / CHICAGO / 1924 In 1913, William Schwartz immigrated to the United States from Smorgon, Russia, believing America offered the most favorable opportunities for artists. He stayed first with family in New York City, then in Omaha, Nebraska, but in 1916 Schwartz relocated to Chicago. While a student at the Art Institute of Chicago he was inspired by its exhibitions of vanguard art, including the paintings of Wassily Kandinsky. In his own work, however, Schwartz adapted the detail and clarity of the Modernist image while retaining natural forms. “The Pioneers” is one of a series of major works in oil that Schwartz painted between 1920 and 1931, which as a group reflect his knowledge of modern French painting. In particular, they recall the bold design and flat color of Paul Gauguin and the Fauve color of Henri Matisse. These works are also indebted to the poetic allegories of Arthur B. Davies, whose one-man exhibition at the Art Institute in 1920 Schwartz probably would have seen. From the French painters, Schwartz assimilated formal innovations; from A. B. Davies he saw a way to personalize allegorical narrative. Schwartz’s pioneers are searchers and pathfinders, like the artist himself. Walking in an endless procession, dressed in clothing intended to evoke biblical associations, they move through spectacular natural scenery toward the unknown. Their procession is timeless, without beginning or end. The painting can be understood as a personal allegory, a sign of ritual passage, of travel, of rebirth, and of the promise of utopian existence.
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