John Singer Sargent was born to expatriate American parents in Florence in 1856. Always in search of culture, his family traveled often throughout Europe, always finding their way back to Italy, the perceived epicenter of all things culturally significant. Even after establishing residency in England in 1886, Sargent returned to Italy numerous times, including annual visits to the country between the years of 1897 and 1914. Sargent took a novel approach to painting the city that had been the inspiration for tourist paintings of the previous two centuries. Instead of highlighting the domes and towers of the city, as was the fashion of the time, Sargent places emphasis on the more mundane architectural elements-,back alleys and doorways, stucco walls and finials – to give a more intimate view of the city, one that was certainly unrecognizable to most tourists. Moreover, John Singer Sargent had an emotional attachment to Italy and felt at home in the country. The figures in his work are most often friends and family, inhabiting neither the loveliest nor the most significant places but rather those that showcase the essence of the city.
One may wonder why if he was so fond of incorporating those he loved in his works, why is this study devoid of figures? Infrared photography undertaken by conservator Bruce Wood unearthed the fact that two figures were outlined and subsequently overpainted at the time of creation. The underdrawing shows two figures, one a woman, possibly with a bustle, and the other unidentifiable, standing on the lower left hand side of the painting, in the area that subsequently became the deterioration on the wall.
Infra-red photography reveals that figures were originally planned in the painting..
Although the idea of eliminating figures in a composition may seem unusual, John Singer Sargent was a perfectionist who had no hesitation omitting elements he did find up to par. Sargent, arguably the premier portrait painter of his generation, believed that it was “..impossible to repaint a head where the understructure was wrong.” and would amend his paintings often when creating studies, only discarding the canvas when the changes became too apparent.
From what is discernible from infrared scans of the work, the manner in which these two figures are rendered is nearly identical to the way Sargent was taught to paint. Sargent trained under Carolus-Duran, who instructed Sargent never to underdraw, only underpaint his canvases. He would begin with sweeping brush strokes and fill in details, beginning in middle tones and moving outward from there, gradually filling in his light and dark tones. Infrared scans of this particular underpainting show the beginning of a developed painting, with a large mass of a neutral color accentuated by both black and white details, further evidence that this may indeed be the work of Sargent himself. Furthermore, one of Sargent’s tenets of painting is to paint figures into another rather than rendering them separately until they touch. In this work, this idea is at play: the figures meld seamlessly into one another, forming shapes that could be the beginnings of bustles or cloaks, arms or shoulders, or faces or chapeaus.
While Sargent is most known for his luminous watercolors of Venice, he also produced a number of oil paintings of the city.
Detail of the Courtyard of the Scuola Grande di San Giovanni Evangelista.
In 1913, he painted a view of the Courtyard of the Scuola Grande di San Giovanni Evangelista, which is now in the collection of the Harvard Art Museums. The painting which is the subject of this analysis is an oil painting of the Porta della Carta of the Doge’s palace, a building Sargent painted multiple times, including one of his most notable paintings, Interior of the Doge’s Palace (1898).
While Sargent often cropped his landscapes and chose unusual points-of-view to accentuate height of buildings or depth in the picture plane, both of these paintings are fairly straight-on compositions. As can be seen in the photos above, the courtyard painting is more detailed, but in both paintings the architecture has been softened and simplified. This aspect of the paintings also relates to Sargent’s oil paintings from previous years. For this example, his 1879 oil painting Alhambra Patio shows similar treatment of details to both of the paintings above.
The method of painting and the style and shape of the brush strokes in all three paintings is very similar, showing a consistency which spans 34 years. All three paintings were created over a dark under-painting. All three are painted with consecutively heavier (thicker) paint, with the highlights being the heaviest. All three have subtle color variations in both the darks and the light areas. All three have a dominant use of dry-brush technique to create atmosphere and blur details.
The paintings also show an impressionistic use of brush-bristle texture in the heavier painted large areas, which corresponds in each to the upper quarter of the painting: The sky and dome in Porta della Carta; The sky in Courtyard of the Scuola; The upper wall of Alhambra Patio.
Detail of Porta della Carta.
Several edge-details of each painting are also similar: The ragged edges of the main archways in Alhambra Patio and Porta della Carta; the abbreviated details shown in the bases of walls in Porta della Carta and Courtyard of the Scuola; the way, in each painting, that the artist avoided creating hard edges when painting light areas next to dark ones (There is usually a buffer area of a mid-value color or grey, not covered by the lightest paint, separating them.)
Thickly painted skies can also be seen in Sargent’s two c.1905 paintings of Moab and the Dead Sea.
Routine examination of a painting rarely reveals surprises, but one portrait of a beautiful woman led to a cross-Atlantic adventure for oil painting conservator Bruce Wood. Infra-red photography revealed a complex and energetic drawing hidden beneath the surface of the paint.
Study for The Honourable Mrs. Graham.
The painting was initially identified as a copy of the most famous painting in Edinburgh’s Scottish National Galleries: The Honourable Mrs Graham’s full-length portrait created by her admirer, Thomas Gainsborough. However, examination of the under-drawing and comparison of it with Gainsborough’s drawing style, quickly led to the conclusion that the painting’s creation was a precursor to the SNG’s finished work.
The discovery led to examination of another Gainsborough painting hanging in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and eventually a trip to Edinburgh to see their masterpiece and perform infra-red photography in their gallery. The revelations of this work led to an understanding of Gainsborough’s working methods, and further bolstered the opinion that the Woodshed’s painting is a rare oil study by the master artist.
Perhaps one of Thomas Gainsborough’s most intricate and recognizable compositions, Gainsborough’s portrait of the Honorable Mrs. Graham is one of the finest examples of 18th century portraiture. Equally as interesting, however, is the story of the sitter, Mrs. Graham, born Mary Cathcart, daughter of the Scottish ambassador to Russia. She spent her early years at the Court of Catherine the Great before her betrothal to Thomas Graham in 1774. Although she maintained a life full of allegations of impropriety, including an alleged affair with Marie Antoinette, Graham was eternally enamored by his wife, going as far as riding ninety miles back to their residence, braving inclement weather to collect jewelry Mary had intended to wear to the ball that night but had forgotten. After her untimely death in 1792, unable to bear the sight of his beloved wife, he turned over ownership of the original Gainsborough painting over to her sister. It was subsequently donated to the Scottish National Galleries by one of her sister’s heirs.
Infra-red photography (right) shows drawing under the paint.
Thomas Graham, however, was not the only one infatuated by Mrs. Graham. Thomas Gainsborough, too, was enamored by her presence and painted her multiple times, mostly from memory. Her striking beauty made her desirable to all and became one of the most admired women of her day, by both men and women alike.
The variation in backgrounds is the clearest indication that this is perhaps a preparation sketch for the more intricate version that hangs in the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. Gainsborough solidified his position as one of the premier English painters, who dabbled in a variety of prominent styles during his illustrious career. While the exhibited version is a quintessential Gainsborough Rococo landscape, with an undulating, verdant hill and exquisitely rendered trees that would lay the groundwork for British Romanticism in the subsequent decades, this study maintains a more somber, yet equally as striking tone. The bucolic hillscape is replaced with a seemingly opaque mass of darkness capped by an eerie sunset, providing a stark contrast with the delicate, pale white Mrs. Graham rather than seamlessly integrating her into the composition. Although dissimilar from the version that now hangs in the Scottish National Gallery, the background is reminiscent of that in Gainsborough’s 1759 Self Portrait and adds a revolutionary dynamic to the formal, rigid rules for which eighteenth century portraiture is known.
Infra-red photo (right) shows lightly drawn lines in the face & neck, with stronger marks in the hair of the painting in the Scottish National Gallery.
Gainsborough is regarded for his attention to even the most minute details when rendering textures in luxurious fabrics, jewels, hair, and accouterments, among other things. His hair is of particular note, eclipsing that of even his most notable contemporary, Sir Joshua Reynolds. Infrared technology has led to the discovery of how he rendered his sitters’ coiffures in such a dynamic manner- an underlying sketch in black chalk. When highlighted with paint, the quick, vertical strokes of black chalk add to the dynamism of the sitter’s fashionable updo and add depth to the static painting. This technique was peculiar enough to warrant further investigation from conservator Bruce Wood, who found nearly identical underdrawings on not only the version in Scotland but also on Gainsborough’s Haymaker and Sleeping Girl (late 1780s) at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
Hand of the Study. Infra-red photo on right shows quickly sketched under-drawing.
Gainsborough was particularly adept at drawing elegant hands, and this work is no exception. His hands extend from an already elongated wrist and terminate seamlessly into her gown. Although disproportionate, the elongated, clutching fingers only enhance the elegance of his sitters and, rather ironically, aim to pronounce the dainty features of his elite, sophisticated clientele.
Hand in the finished painting. Infra-red photo on right shows refined under-drawing.
While the Woodshed’s portrait is in exceptional condition, it does show signs of its age, furthering the idea that this is indeed a study by Gainsborough! The manner of cracking is consistent with other portraits of the period, including both the version in the National Gallery and his compositions found at the Museum of Fine Arts. This piece is a technical masterpiece that only Gainsborough or someone equally as masterful could have painted, and it is, indeed, very likely that it was created by Gainsborough’s hands.
Gainsborough’s portrait of Caroline, 4th Duchess of Marlborough. The treatment of the hair and clothing relates to the under-drawing of the Woodshed’s study of Mrs. Graham.
Infra-red photography at the Scottish National Gallery.
Last month, Woodshed Art Auctions was consigned a portrait painting of a woman, signed Picasso and dated 1939. While examining its condition, a few startling things were discovered.
Visual inspection revealed that the painting looked like others from the mid-20th century: Dry paint, an even layer of light grime and dust both front and back, and the stretcher is a style used in Europe.
Next, ultraviolet lighting was used to examine the paint. It revealed that the cotton duck canvas was commercially primed with gesso, and then tacked to the stretcher. The age of the canvas and gesso was confirmed when compared to a 1940’s painting in our gallery. The UV light also showed that the painting was never varnished, and also that it was intact, with no repairs or retouching.
But the paint itself was unusual. The red and blue areas fluoresced brightly, and overall the lighter paint had a greenish-yellow glow, not the bluish-white glow found in paintings made with flake (lead) white commonly used by mid-century artists. The fluorescent red and blue was unexpected, as they are not common in artists’ paint pigments. It appears that the artist used a combination of traditional oil paints and commercial/industrial paint, mixed with zinc white (which glows yellow/white).
A bit of research led to confirmation that Picasso and some of his contemporaries experimented with household and industrial paints. (See one reference here.) Reference books in our gallery’s library also confirmed that in 1939-40, Picasso produced a series of portraits in the style of this portrait, with straight lines, hard edges and outlines defining the contours, superimposed over an organic form.
Transmitted infra-red light reveals compositional changes and clues to the artist’s working method.
The biggest discovery came when the painting was subjected to infra-red (IR) transmission photography. Though invisible to our eyes, the IR camera revealed that there is no under-drawing (as could be expected if this was a copy, or if the artist based the painting on a sketch), and that the composition of the face was developed in a free-form fashion, with elements refined and defined by the addition of outlines and straight lines later in the painting process. (IR light reveals carbon used in black paint and drawing materials.)
This is evident in (See the central photo above): 1/ A wisp of hair which is over-painted in the finished painting; 2/ A strong horizontal S shape extending from the top of the left eye to under the right eye, 3/ The shape of the nose; 4/A change to the shape of the hat’s brim; 5/A black area below the chin which is over-painted in the finished work; 6/ A change in the shape of the collar, and 7/ A change in the outer shape of the shoulder and breast.
All of the material evidence has led us to the conclude that this painting is an authentic, lost Picasso. It is being examined by representatives of the Picasso Estate (Picasso Authentification, Paris) and we await their decision.
Born in Stockholm in 1862, Hilma af Klint was unknowingly one of the earliest abstract painters. Aside from being an artist, Klint was a practicing mystic, holding seances and channeling ancient spirits. Her occultist beliefs, particularly those of theosophy, formed the crux of her work. Her goal was to gain a spiritual unity by reconciling the duality of spiritual life and the material world. Spiral shapes recur in Klint’s work and symbolize progress toward this reconciliation.
Klint belonged to a group of women artists named, dubbed “The Five”, who asserted that they held a divine connection with “High Spirits” that guided their hands with automatic drawings that transcribed the Spirits’ esoteric messages. In 1905, Klint claimed that these High Spirits told her to create a suite of paintings for an unrecognized, spiral temple. Between 1906 and 1915, Klint devoted much of her time to realizing these paintings and ultimately created 196 Temple Paintings, her earliest and most lauded abstract paintings. Reoccurring themes are present throughout the set of paintings, including the term WU, which is the bonding of matter and spirit, and pyramid shapes and stages of life, which represented the development of the spirit and human form, respectively.
Although Klint alleged that her works were painted through divine intervention, they are well-executed and showcase her academic training. Her most abstract pieces, whether truly divinely inspired or realized by her own subconscious, are eye-catching and draw the eye to the crisp shapes and bold contrast in color, while her more figurative pieces are striking in their ability to seamlessly blend figurative forms with abstract elements.
Klint has had a resurgence in the past decades. During her lifetime, her status as a occultist artist and her position as a woman in the male dominated art world. After a self-imposed twenty-year embargo on exhibiting her work after her death, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art included her in the seminal show, “The Spiritual in Art, Abstract Painting 1895-1985” in 1986, where she was finally given her due. The momentum garnered from inclusion in this show spawned multiple exhibitions across three continents, with a forthcoming exhibition of her work at the Guggenheim Museum in late 2018.
In the 2018-2019 season, Woodshed Art Auctions will be offering several paintings by followers of Hilma af Klint.
Arshile Gorky (1904-1948), was a talented Armenian born American painter who is regarded as the connection between American Abstract Expressionist movement and the European Surrealist themes in painting. His mature sense of spontaneity was decades ahead of his time and influenced artists that followed in his footsteps, including Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, Robert Motherwell and others associated with the New York School.
“Abstraction allows man to see with his mind what he cannot see physically with his eyes.” –AG
Still life, 1929.
Vosdanik Adoian was Gorky’s given name but he changed it in 1924 when he moved to New York. He was born in Turkey in 1904, but emigrated with his sister to the United States, escaping the civil unrest in that area. He briefly lived in Rhode Island, studying at the Rhode Island School of Design, and then at the New School of Design and Illustration in Boston, before moving to New York. He started teaching at what is now known as the Parsons School of Design, where Mark Rothko was a student, and began frequenting museums and galleries in a focused, self-study. He pored over the work of masters like Cezanne, Picasso, Miro and Kandinsky, and obsessively translated all he absorbed into an unique style inspired by Cubism, Surrealism and his own childhood memories. He tragically lost his mother as a result of the ethnic cleansing in his home town, but he never forgot her or the impression that country left on him.
“I seek a form of language which will express my ideas for our time.” AG
How My Mother’s Apron Unfolds in My Life, 1944.
De Kooning considered Gorky his mentor and credits him with having an instinctive understanding about painting and art; “things I was supposed to know and feel and understand – he just knew it by nature.”
Water of the Flowery Mill, 1944
“Gorky had tapped into that element of his psyche and personal history which gave his work energy, empathy, and sublime inventiveness,” Edith Devaney, author of a book on Gorky, has written, “and which was born of a culmination of lengthy self-imposed study of many of the strands of modern art, the culmination being his unique evocation of nature.”
In this way, Gorky harnessed the complexity of his experiences and advanced what he believed to be the role of an artist: “To make manifest the beautiful inherent in all the objects of nature and man.”
Gorky was successful as an artist in New York and in 1941 married young Alice Magruder, known as Magoush, with whom he had a family. They lived on a farm in Connecticut where Gorky hit his stride with his work. This productive period was short lived however, as a string of tragedies affected him; a studio fire, then a diagnosis of rectal cancer, and finally a car crash in 1948 that left him with a broken neck. By the middle of that year, Gorky had descended into a deep depression that culminated in him taking his own life at the age of 46.
The artist In his studio, plein air and with his family.
Arshile Gorky’s influence on the New York artists was profound. Within four years of his death De Kooning, Rothko, Clyfford Still, Barnett Newman, Robert Motherwell and Jackson Pollock were experiencing unprecedented success. As Cy Twombly, one of his most distinguished successors, observed, “Gorky would copy a drawing into a painting.” Always, whatever the scale, however colourful the polymorphic hubbub in a painting might be, he had been there before with his sharp pencil, marking the score.
Art Digest ran an article: “Gorky: Was He Tops or Second Rate?” “I am glad that it is about impossible to get away from his powerful influence,” De Kooning wrote in loyal reproof. “As long as I keep it with myself I’ll be doing all right. Sweet Arshile, bless your dear heart.”
Portrait of Master Bill, 1929
Currently at the Woodshed Gallery, we have two signed drawings, done in graphite and colored pencil. One of them is dated 1944, the other is undated but is very similar, and likely was created around the same time. Earthy and organic, the amorphous shapes suggest the very essence of nature itself – as Gorky saw it.
Drawing signed A. Gorky, 1944.
Drawing signed A. Gorky.
Prominent American artist Robert Indiana, best known for his iconic 1960’s LOVE series, died on May 19, 2018 in his home on Vinalhaven Island in Maine – he was 89 years old.
Robert Indiana in Vinalhaven, Maine, 2002
Indiana’s adaptation of LOVE, the L & O stacked on top of V & E with the O tilting slightly to the right, resonated with the ideals of the 1960’s. Antiwar protesting, free love and experimentation, shedding remnants of the Cold War and addressing civil rights were all hotbed issues of this era. Indiana’s approach, using powerful words, numbers and solid areas of color with crisp, contained edges, made his work accessible to the masses. On the surface his work was easy to view and accept – less obvious was his intensely personal relationship to the words and numbers he chose.
“I feel that I am a sign painter,” he once said in an interview. “ I mean, I make paintings that are signs, but as far as I’m concerned, important signs, signs that say something, that have very meaningful messages.” He defined his style further by stating, “There are more signs than trees in America. There are more signs than leaves. So I think of myself as a painter of American landscape.”
Indiana was born Robert Clark to adoptive parents Earl and Carmen Clark in 1928. He showed artistic talent as a child and was encouraged by his first grade teacher to stay true and develop his skills into a profession.
Growing up, his home life endured waves of stress and insecurity as his father, once an executive with an oil company, lost his job and held a series of lower paying positions to make ends meet. By the time Robert was 17 he had lived in 21 different locations and suffered through the drama of his parent’s divorce. In retrospect, he claims this experience helped influence his attraction with numbers and powerful words, which became his signature.
Graduating high school in 1946, Indiana enlisted in the U.S. Air Force, intending to fund his college studies through the G.I. Bill. In 1949, with his service complete, he enrolled at the Art Institute of Chicago and also studied at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine and the Edinburgh College of Art in Scotland before earning his BFA in 1954 and heading to New York.
In 1956 Indiana met Ellsworth Kelly, and upon his recommendation joined a community of artists in Coenties Slip that would come to include Kelly, Agnes Martin, James Rosenquist, and Jack Youngerman. The environment of ‘The Slip’, where he and his fellow artists scavenged the area’s abandoned warehouses for materials and transformed them into large sculptures, had a profound impact on Indiana. The discovery of 19th century brass stencils led to the incorporation of brightly colored numbers and short emotionally charged words onto these sculptures as well as canvases, and became the basis of his new painterly vocabulary. Around this time Indiana decided to adopt his “nom de brush” of Indiana, acknowledging his mid western roots and solidifying his identity.
Artists on the roof of Coenties Slip, 1958
Indiana & Warhol, 1964
Indiana’s Hard Edge
Indiana quickly became one of the most significant artists of his generation. He is acknowledged as a leader of the Pop movement, along with Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, however this was not a label he embraced. “I do not like the word,” he stated emphatically. “I was Hard-Edge, I was not Pop.” Hard Edge is defined as a contemporary American geometric style of abstract painting, featuring an “economy of form,” “fullness of color,” and “neatness of surface.” Ellsworth Kelly is a dominant artist in this style and had a strong impact on Indiana.
Ellsworth Kelly, Orange Red Relief, 1959
Despite his reservations about Pop, it colored the rest of his career and few Pop images are more widely recognized than Indiana’s LOVE. It was commissioned by The Museum of Modern Art in 1965 for a Christmas card and has appeared in prints, paintings, sculptures, banners, rings, tapestries, and on a best-selling United States Postal Service stamp in 1973.
In a 2013 interview in with the online magazine Artspace, Indiana was asked for his opinion on LOVE’s success as a piece of its era’s visual culture and achieving rare universal recognition that is on par with icons like the Mona Lisa. He replied, “Don’t forget Picasso’s Peace Dove. Let’s think about Picasso’s Peace Dove. Time does do its damage. People are beginning to forget about Picasso, when, of course, for me, a young artist, he was the dominating factor because of Life magazine.”
We are excited to offer a small study of LOVE in our upcoming Auction on June 7. We also happen to have one of Picasso’s Peace Dove ink drawings available. Please register on our platform Woodshed Art Auctions for this upcoming event.
1917 Portrait of Chaim Soutine by Amedeo Modigliani, oil on canvas.
Chaim Soutine was a French-Russian painter born in 1893 and raised in a small Jewish settlement near Minsk, Belarus. From a young age he expressed a strong interest in drawing. He was often faced with opposition from his mostly Orthodox community due to Talmudic proscriptions regarding images. At age 16 Soutine set off to study at the Vilna Academy of Fine Arts where he was exposed to a variety of artwork ranging from older Russian masters to artists of the Russian avant-garde. Soutine excelled quickly in painting and drawing as he began to develop his characteristic dark and twisted style.
Soutine headed to Paris next to study under the respected French historical painter Fernand Cormon. Here he frequently visited the Louvre to conduct studies of works by Goya, Tintoretto, Ingres and Courbet, among others. Soutine most admired the paintings of Rembrandt van Rijn for his mastery of portraiture and still life as well as his dramatic rendering of light. Soon Soutine was introduced to Amedeo Modigliani, the Italian Jewish artist who influenced his career most significantly. The two became great friends. Soutine had always been a shy, slightly troubled man, so he struggled in forging relationships and further establishing his career. Modigliani helped him with this. He introduced Soutine to his art dealer, Leopold Zborowski, who almost immediately offered to represent Soutine.
Ceret Landscape by Chaim Soutine, oil on canvas, 1920.
Soutine’s new-found art dealer enabled him to spend three years painting in Southern France where he created a series of distorted landscapes much like the two here at the Woodshed Gallery. Soutine’s paintings from this time depict elongated white houses with bright red roofs and turbulent skies. His anguished compositions are dramatically distorted. As an Expressionist, Soutine favored strong depiction of emotion over a convincing representation of depth and space. In House Portrait with a Woman, (below), Soutine features an almost haunting faceless form in a white dress standing beside a bare tree. The house bends and sways along with the winds of the stormy skies above as if it is about to unhinge and float away.
Another favorite subject of Soutine’s was animal carcasses. This interest was likely a result of his complex relationship with food as a Jew and of his adoration of Rembrandt, who painted many still lifes featuring food. Soutine’s Rabbit Carcass (similar to Rembrandt’s Slaughtered Ox) depicts a dead rabbit sprawled on a table with its head chopped off. Soutine’s dark palette contributes to the disturbing mood of the piece.
Slaughtered Ox by Rembrandt, oil on canvas, 1655
It is thought that the twisted, oppressive nature of Soutine’s paintings reflects the artist’s own inner turmoil. Nonetheless, Soutine paved the way for future members of the avant-garde. The influence of Chaim Soutine can be observed in the later works of many artists such as Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning and Francis Bacon.
Chaim Soutine, Study of a dead rabbit, oil on paper. (Woodshed Gallery)
In House Portrait with a Woman, possibly painted in Ceret, France, by Chaim Soutine. (Woodshed Gallery)
Philip Guston was born in Montreal, Canada and moved with his family to America (Los Angeles) when he was 6. He went to the Manual Arts High School with Jackson Pollock (they both were expelled) and received a scholarship to Otis Art Institute, which he attended briefly. In the 30’s he painted murals for the WPA on their Federal Art Project and later taught painting at the State University of Iowa. In the mid 40’s he moved to New York and became part of a circle of artists, writers and composers, including Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock.
Guston was part of the Postwar Abstract Expressionist movement in New York, also known as the New York School. During this phase he experimented with color through non-representational paintings.
Zone, 1953, oil on canvas
Guston received awards and prizes for his work, including a Guggenheim fellowship and a Prix de Rome, which enabled him to live and work in Europe for a year. The Museum of Modern Art purchased one of his paintings and he had a major retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum in 1962. Then, in mid stride of his rising fame, he moved to Woodstock, New York and began painting in a symbolic style that completely rocked the art world.
Crude figures and objects rendered in bold brushwork were presented to the New York art world and met with scathing reviews. The New York Times art critic Hilton Kramer wrote an article titled: A Mandarin Pretending to Be a Stumblebum, in which he ridiculed this new style.
Willem de Kooning was one of the few people that understood the importance of this controversial new direction. “ Phil, the subject you’re painting is Freedom!” And after his debut of the new paintings at the Marlborough Gallery in 1970, de Kooning said; “Now you are on your own… you have paid off all your debts.” (Marlborough Gallery refused to renew Guston’s contract.)
Philip Guston: The Studio, oil on canvas,1969.
But for Guston they made sense as he sought to address inner turmoil and who he was as an artist. During the 60’s, the Viet Nam War, political and social upheaval, and the brutality of the world were all important issues for him. The images that began to appear in his paintings were grotesque and humorous – some were flashbacks from his childhood, both real and imagined.
Guston created a lively cast of characters—sinister, hooded figures reminiscent of the Ku Klux Klan; heads with a large, protruding eye; disembodied limbs. Seemingly mundane objects, such as bare light bulbs, shoes, cigarettes, and bricks were also imbued with personal meaning. This style of painting is known as Neo Expressionism and Philip Guston is credited for its inception.
“The only possession an artist has is freedom to do whatever you can imagine.”
Hooded Figures Driving, oil on canvas.
In our Dec 28, 2017 auction:
Hooded figures drive through a landscape that borders on the industrial and otherworldly. Fleshy pink shapes are cartoonish versions of pines, hedges and topiary trees, while a heavy pipe-like structure interrupts the setting. A brown rocket-like shape represents power and danger, something that protects and also destroys. Guston explored these shapes, landscapes and figures as reflections of himself and the world he was living in.
“Painting is self-discovery. Every good artist paints what he is.”
Jackson Pollock was an influential American painter and the leading force behind the abstract expressionist movement. He transformed the art world when he introduced his first drip paintings in 1947. His work brought together elements of Cubism, Surrealism and Impressionism, and with this method he transcended them all.
Time Life Magazine Article, 1949
During his lifetime, Pollock enjoyed considerable fame and notoriety, yet he was also a controversial figure who fought personal battles throughout his whole life. He was born in Cody, Wyoming in 1912 and experienced Native American culture in his youth, which influenced his early works. In 1930 he moved to New York and studied at the Art Student’s League where he struggled to forge his identity as an artist and to reconcile his prior Western upbringing with the radically different environment of New York City. He had a volatile personality; he struggled with alcoholism, depression, grand ambition and self doubt. He married Lee Krasner, another artist, who put her career on hold while they worked toward his success. In 1949 Time Magazine ran an article on him with the title: Jackson Pollock, Is he the greatest living painter in the United States? The article changed his life overnight and helped cement his reputation.
Jackson Pollock: Circle, 1938-41.
“It doesn’t make much difference how the paint is put on as long as something has been said. Technique is just a means of arriving at a statement.”
In the early 1940’s Pollock began to lose the figures and forms of his earlier work and covered his canvas completely with marks. His work transitioned into the drip paintings that he is so famous for. His style of painting is also known as action painting.
Action painting was first coined in 1952 by the American art critic Harold Rosenberg in the December edition of Art News. It referred to Pollock’s technique of dripping paint onto a canvas. Instead of using the traditional easel, he placed his canvases on the floor and dripped, splattered and poured paint onto them from a can, using sticks, trowels or knives.
Jackson Pollock: Convergence, 1952.
Sometime around 1952, at the height of his fame, Pollock abruptly ceased using his action painting method. At the same time his palette grew darker and he produced a series of black pictures painted in oil and enamel on unprimed canvases. In a few years he was back to adding color and some figurative elements to his paintings but he was also drinking heavily and that was taking a toll. Pollock painted his last works in 1955, just 6 years after the Time Magazine article was published. He died tragically in 1956.
Jackson Pollock: Drip Painting, 1951. Woodshed Art Auctions.
Currently at Woodshed Art Auctions, we have a canvas that was painted in 1951, right before Pollock began his black painting series. The colorful palette in this drip painting is carried right to the edges, suggesting this work was painted off the easel and probably on the studio floor. The date of creation is at the height of Pollack’s notoriety and fame and when he was most at peace with his process.
At the Woodshed Gallery, we never know what masterpiece will arrive next. Our auction consignments are a source of constant fascination. So are the paintings which come to us for cleaning, restoration and conservation. A few months ago a friend arrived with a painting discovered in storage at the estate sale of a Marlboro, Mass art collector. He recognized the signature, and leaped on the chance to own it.
The old canvas had lost its frame somewhere over the past century, and it had a few signs of neglect, but when we put it in a good light, the image radiated with the strength of a master composition. We inspected the stretcher and saw 19th century construction and iron tacks applied in the evenly spaced technique of the Royal Academy of London. And when we examined the signature, we found that it was original to the canvas: JF CROPSEY 1878! A bit of research led to identifying the image as a late Autumn sunrise at Lake Champlain, New York.
The newly discovered painting was brought to Star Antiques Appraiser Dr. Lori Verderame from the History and Discovery channels (The Curse of Oak Island, Auction Kings). She carefully examined the painting in person prior to our restoration work, and then again after, through her online evaluation and appraisal service, authenticated it.
Jasper Francis Cropsey | Woodshed Art Auctions - YouTube
Jasper Francis Cropsey (February 18, 1823 – June 22, 1900) was a leader amongst the Hudson River School Painters of the mid/late 1800’s, and is known as a master of Luminist painting, which flourished for about two decades from the early 1850’s. In the 1870’s, artistic tastes changed, influenced by the both of the dominant French schools: The Barbizons (Tonalists) and the nascent Impressionists. Cropsey adapted his style by smoothing out details, increasing contrasts, simplifying the brightest focal points of his landscapes, and employing Impressionistic brushwork to create atmospheric effects. His skill was, to put it mildly, awesome.
This impressively scaled painting will be offered for sale in our auction on November 27th. It will be a rare opportunity to purchase a fine work of art by an American Master Painter synonymous with The Hudson River School Movement and Luminism and featured in the best museums and fine art collections throughout the world.