Auction Lot Details for Jackson Pollock
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Number 16, 1949
Sales Price**: $32,645,000
**(Includes auction fee to buyer)
Low Estimate: $25,000,000
High Estimate: $35,000,000
Auction Lot: 39
Christie's New York, Rockefeller Center
Auction Date: 11/12/2013
Signed and Dated
30.75" x 22.25" (78.11cm x 56.52cm)
Oil and enamel / Paper
© 2001 Pollock-Krasner Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Provenance: Peggy Guggenheim, Venice (acquired in December 1949 in exchange for
Betty Parsons Gallery, New York
Dwight Ripley, Marion
G. David Thompson, Pittsburgh
His sale; Parke-Bernet Galleries, Inc., New York, 23-24 March 1966, lot 83
Acquavella Galleries, New York
Mr. and Mrs. Edwin Singer, Corpus Christi
Acquavella Galleries, New York
Private collection, New York
Private collection, Philadelphia
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Exhibitions: New York, Betty Parsons Gallery, Jackson Pollock, Paintings, November-December 1949.
Venice, Ala Napoleonica, Museo Correr, Jackson Pollock, July-August 1950, no. 23.
Amsetrdam, Stedelijk Museum and Brussels, Palais des Beaux-Arts, Surrealist and Abstract Art Selected from the Peggy Guggenheim, January-March 1951, no. 149.
Bern, Kunsthalle, Tendances Actuelles 3, January-March 1955, p. 3, no. 59.
Pittsburgh, Carnegie Institute, Carnegie Museum of Art, extended loan, circa early 1960s.
Corpus Christi, Art Museum of South Texas, Expressionism in Modern Art, December 1974-February 1975, no. 13.
Oxford, Museum of Modern Art; Düsseldorf, Stádtische Kunsthalle; Lisbon,
Fundacao Calouste Gulbenkian; Paris, Musée d'art moderne de la ville de
Paris; Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum and New York, Museum of Modern Art, Jackson Pollock: Drawing into Painting,
April 1979-March 1980, p. 59, no. 35 (Oxford, Düsseldorf and Paris);
no. 33 (Lisbon); p. 42, no. 35 (Amsterdam); pp. 52 and 95 (New York).
New York, C&M Arts, Jackson Pollock: Drip Paintings on Paper 1948-1949, October-December 1993, n.p. (illustrated in color).
Literature: Artforum 4, February 1966, p. 6 (illustrated).
Arts Magazine, February 1966, p. 9 (illustrated).
Burlington Magazine, February 1966, p. xxiv (illustrated).
Art News, March 1966, p. 32 (illustrated).
Ivory Hammer 4, 1966, p. 64 (illustrated in color).
F.V. O'Connor and E.V. Thaw, Jackson Pollock, A Catalogue Raisonné of Paintings, Drawings, and Other Works, Vol. 2: Paintings, 1948-1955, New Haven, 1978, p. 66, no. 244 (illustrated).
Lot Note(s): mounted on masonite"Pollock's talent is volcanicit has fire. It is unpredictableIt
spills itself out in a mineral prodigality not yet crystalized. It is
lavish, explosive"--John Sweeney, 1943
In 1947 Jackson Pollock made the dramatic shift from applying paint
directly to the canvas and began the seismic shift that would completely
reinvent the accepted conventions that surrounded the creation of art.
umber 16, 1949 is an exemplar painting that, within its ribbons of
painterly color, fluid composition and fizzles of chromatic energy
reveals these revolutionary advances that Pollock made to the practice
of painting. Painted in 1949, during a remarkable burst of creativity, Number 16, 1949
was executed during one of the rare periods in Pollock's life when he
was free from the internal struggles that governed much of his life.
Released from these demons, his ingenuity erupted unabashed resulting in
some of the most genuinely creative paintings in the history of art.
Acquired by Peggy Guggenheim for her legendary collection, Number 16, 1949
was exhibited across Europe, a move that was instrumental in cementing
the artist's career and which marked the shift of the artistic epicenter
of the world from Europe to the United States and began the supremacy
of Abstract Expressionism.
The fluid lines of chromatic brilliance that dance across the surface of Number 16, 1949
are a physical manifestation of the artist at the height of his
creative authority. The agitation of Pollock's constantly moving hand is
traced throughout the surface of the work, as lace-like trails of
pigment happily coexist alongside more substantial passages of
color-choreographed together in a delicate yet deliberate dance.
Seemingly contradictory elements-bold and brash yet at the same time
delicate and refined--collide but never clash. It is a testament to
Pollock's abilities that this seemingly autonomous application of paint
is in fact very deliberate and precise. As the artist's wife, the
painter Lee Krasner recalled, Pollock's radical new technique of
painting was primarily a way of "working in the air 'gesturallly
creating' aerial forms which then landed" (L. Krasner, quoted in S.
Naifeh and G. White Smith, Jackson Pollock. An American Saga, New
York, 1989, p. 539). Pollock would, "take his stick or brush out of the
paint can," the photographic documenter of his working practice, Hans
Namuth recalled, "and then, in a cursive sweep, pass it over the canvas
high above it, so that the viscous paint would form trailing patterns
which hover over the canvas before they settle upon it, and then fall
into it and then leave a trace of their own passage. He is not drawing
on the canvas so much as in the air above it" (H. Namuth, ibid). Pollock
reveled in this new way of painting, and its ambiguous reception by
critics of the art establishment. "There was a reviewer a while back who
wrote that my pictures didn't have any beginning or end," Pollock once
recalled, "He didn't mean it as a compliment, but it was." (J. Pollock,
quoted by T. J. Clark, "Pollock's Smallness," in K. Varnedoe and P.
Karmel (eds.), Jackson Pollock: New Approaches, New York, 1999, p. 21).
Like flares shooting into the sky, effervescent trails of teal blue,
red, sunset orange, green and yellow are intermingled with the
structural black elements to demonstrate Pollock's adept handling of
color. Speaking after seeing Pollock's first exhibition at Peggy
Guggenheim's Art of this Century gallery in 1943, Clement Greenberg
raved; "[Pollock] is the first painter I know of to have got something
so positive from the muddiness of color that so profoundly characterizes
a great deal of American painting" (C. Greenberg, quoted by M.
Dearborn, Peggy Guggenheim: Mistress of Modernism, London, 2005,
p. 261). Although some of his paintings are defined by their dark,
monochromic nature-particularly those painted during his bouts of
depression, alcoholism and melancholia-Pollock was extremely skilled in
his use of color. Lucifer, 1947, an exemplary example of the artist's developing poured
painting technique, is also an essay in his intricate use of color, its
decanted trails of green, mauves and creams interspersed with "staccato
shots" of yellow, blue and orange all coalescing into one cohesive
composition. In Number 16, 1949, painted the year after Lucifer,
Pollock appears more confident in his chromatic abilities as he allows
himself to let color be the controlling aspect of the composition,
rather than a mere accent. Some have traced this bold use of color back
to the influence of his mentor Thomas Hart Benton, but here Pollock
releases the chromatic value of his pigment from their formal figurative
duties and allows them to express their true, unrestricted values.
In 1949, eschewing the almost mural-sized works of 1948, Pollock created
paintings in smaller sizes and formats that he hoped would prove more
accessible than his largest paintings. Number 16, 1949 belongs to
a series of work painted on paper and mounted on masonite. By confining
his work onto a smaller scale, Pollock had to adjust, probe and
re-examine his ability with the drip technique considerably. Instead of
making sweeping gestures in the air with his brush, the nuances of line
are created with swift and elegant flicks of the wrist that prompt both
finer and more dense concentrations allowing for a fuller range of
As Number 16, 1949 illustrates, the change in scale did not
affect Pollock's prodigious mastery and control of the drip technique
nor his ability to generate magical images with it. A startling degree
of finesse is used to contrast the thicker pourings of color where two
different paints have been allowed to flow into one another. These
denser, seemingly more earthy collisions are echoed a thousand times
over in other parts of the composition by the lighter and more frenetic
splattered collisions of swiftly dripped lines of a wide variety of
color and globular density. This would eventually reach its peak two
years later in the striking painting Number 28 from 1951, where
dense and torrid swirls of monochromatic pigment are expertly overlaid
with a gossamer thin web of pure white strands. Writing in several years
after Number 16, 1949 was painted, the critic Frank O'Hara
eulogized about this lyrical quality of Pollock's fluid line: "There has
never been enough said about Pollock's draftsmanship, that amazing
ability to quicken a line by thinning it, to slow it by flooding, to
elaborate that's simplest of elements, the line-to change, to
reinvigorate, to extend, to build up an embarrassment of riches in the
mass by drawing alone" (F. O'Hara, quoted by B. Rose, Jackson Pollock: Drawing into Painting, exh. cat., Museum of Modern Art, Oxford, 1979, p. 11).
Number 16, 1949 was acquired by the legendary collector Peggy Guggenheim in December 1949 in exchange for one of Pollock's earlier works, Shooting Star.
In 1948, Betty Parsons, wrote to Peggy Guggenheim in Venice expressing
her concerns about the financial state of the Pollocks, and proposed any
of the pending sales which Guggenheim had agreed to, "go through in
their favor financially and you receivenew pictures from their future
work. This would save them from immediate financial embarrassment"
(Letter from Betty Parsons to Peggy Guggenheim, dated April 5, 1948,
quoted by F. V O'Connor & E. V. Thaw (eds.), Jackson Pollock: A Catalogue Raisonné of Paintings, Drawings and Other Works, New Haven and London, 1978, p. 66). As part of this arrangement, Shooting Star was duly sold, and eventually Number 16, 1949 entered Miss Guggenheim's collection in December the following year.
Peggy Guggenheim was one of Pollock most influential supporters. To help
finance the artist's first show at her Art of this Century gallery in
1943 she agreed to pay him $150 a month for a year, deducting the money
(plus her 33 sales commission) from the proceeds of the sales. This
unprecedented contract was a clear demonstration of Guggenheim's faith
in the artist, which was also demonstrated in the press release sent to
journalists before the opening of that first show, where she stated
that, "I consider this exhibition to be something of an event in the
contemporary history of American artI consider [Pollock] to be one of
the strongest and most interesting American painters" (P. Guggenheim,
quoted by M. Dearborn, Peggy Guggenheim: Mistress of Modernism,
London, 2005, p. 260). Guggenheim was very proud of having helped
Pollock and considered it her greatest achievement, "The discovery of
the genius of Jackson Pollock and its presentation to the American
public I regard as one of the most satisfactory achievements of my many
years of hard work in the cause of abstract art. The acclamation with
which it was received by artist and critics alike was a gratifying
confirmation of my own judgment and a source of inspiration in my
further research for undiscovered talent" (P. Guggenheim, Jackson Pollock, exh. cat., Ala Napoleonica, Museo Correr, Venice, 1950, n.p.).
The present work was painted in 1949, a year that proved to be the most
decisive and important of Pollock's life. After two years struggling to
formulate and evolve his "drip" technique Pollock, and everyone around
him, knew that the time was ripe, for him to assert his radical new work
on a wider public. Pollock himself was in a confident and relatively
stable frame of mind. Throughout the first part of 1949 he settled into a
simple and healthy routine at his house on Fireside Road in the
Springs, East Hampton. Isolated from outside influence and the
temptations of the city, Pollock worked soberly and keenly on several
new paintings for a show at Betty Parsons in November. In August of that
year, Pollock was also featured prominently in the pages of Life
magazine under the banner headline "Jackson Pollock: Is he the greatest
living painter in the United States?" Across four pages, the magazine
chronicled the painter's meteoric rise to fame, stating that "Pollock
was unknown in 1944. Now his paintings hang in five U.S. museums and 40
private collections. Exhibiting in New York last winter he sold 12 out
of 18 pictures. Moreover his work has stirred up a fuss in Italy, and
this autumn he is slated for a one-man show in avant-garde Paris, where
is fast becoming the most talked-of and controversial U.S. painter" (Life
magazine, August 8, 1949, p. 42). It was his critical reception in
Europe that cemented Pollock's reputation and finally, after centuries
of domination by the European fine arts, the center of the art world had
shifted westwards to the United States.
Number 16, 1949 provides ample evidence of Pollock's reputation
as one of the most influential and groundbreaking artists of his
generation. His accomplished use of color, combined with his almost
supra-natural skill in controlling the almost uncontrollable nature of
liquid pigment resulted in one of the most extraordinary paintings of
Pollock's career. Produced when the artist was creating some of the most
accomplished examples of this iconic painting technique, Number 16, 1949
proclaims its virtues in the most distinguished manner. Having
re-written the established rules of painting, Pollock became a champion
for a new generation of artists who were determined to forge a path on
their terms and in a way addressed their concerns. Just a few short
months after the present work was painted, Clement Greenberg anointed
Pollock the leader of this new generation when he declared, "Jackson
Pollock's show this year at Betty Parson's continued his astounding
progress.The general quality that emerged from such picturesseemed more
than enough to justify the claim that Pollock is one of the major
painters of our time" (C. Greenberg, quoted by T. de Duve, Clement Greenberg between the lines: including a debate with Clement Greenberg, Chicago, 2010, p. 35).
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