A pensive pianist supports her head with one hand—a melancholic pose that has symbolized artistic genius since the Renaissance. With the other, she strikes a piano’s keys as the gramophone at left records her efforts.
Music and technology are dominant themes in the work of Roszak, who was a trained violinist and a mechanic.
Roszak studied in Europe from 1929 until 1931. During this period, the artist’s style changed radically as he encountered contemporary avant-garde movements. Here Roszak combines the geometric vocabulary of Cubism and the dreamlike imagery of Surrealism.
Theodore Roszak was born in Poland and came to Chicago at the age of two. He studied at the Art Institute of Chicago, Columbia University, and the National Academy of Design with George Luks and Charles W. Hawthorne. Roszak began his career as a traditional painter, but his style changed when he was exposed to modern art during a trip to Europe, where he was profoundly impacted by the metaphysical art of Giorgio de Chirico. His major influence was the theories espoused by Constructivism and the German Bauhaus School, which attempted to create a new approach to architecture that incorporated design, craftsmanship, and modern machine technology. Roszak is best known for his sculptures that utilized the concepts of the Bauhaus. They were abstract geometric machine-age style forms with clean lines and minimal detail. Many of these pieces resembled the amoeba-like shapes of Joan Miró.
In Girl at the Piano, Roszak combined geometric abstraction, Surrealism, and his fascination with the technology of the machine age to create visual descriptions of sound. Roszak was an accomplished violinist, and in this painting he portrays both the act of music making and the machine capable of recording it. As a trained toolmaker, and an advocate of the Bauhaus School ideals, Roszak believed in the integration of industry and art. His attitude is reflected in the colorful, intricate mechanism linking the keyboard to the recording stylus. The three enigmatic forms to the left of the pianist’s head resemble machine parts, but they could also be Roszak’s visual symbols for the musician’s abstract thoughts. The pianist, his wife Florence, was the subject of many of his portraits during the 1930s. Blending the contemplative aura of the pianist with the sleek precision of his machines, Roszak matches his imaginative sense with his reverence for logic and rationality.
Dreishpoon, Douglas. Theodore Roszak: Paintings and Drawings from the Thirties. New York: Hirschl & Adler, 1989.
Wooden, Howard E. Theodore Roszak—The Early Works, 1929-1943: An Exhibition of Sculptures, Paintings and Drawings. Wichita, KS: Wichita Art Museum, 1986. Published in conjunction with an exhibition of the same title, organized by and presented at the Wichita Art Museum, October 5 - November 30, 1986.