Abstract Expressionism

Ab Ex Contents

Ab Ex Essays


Abstract Expressionism January - Summer 1945

by Gary Comenas (2009, Updated 2016)

to June - December 1945

In 1945 gallery sales of art in the U.S. increased by 40% compared to 1944. (SG91) But only 15% of the art sold in the U.S. in 1945 was by American artists. (RO252)

January 12, 1945: Jean-Paul Sartre arrives in New York. (CJ308)

Sartre's lover in Paris, Simone de Beauvoir, had always thought that she and Jean-Paul would visit the U.S. for the first time together, but Sartre made his first trip to the states on his own, as a representative of Combat magazine. (CJ308) During his four months in America he would write thirty-two articles. He would also take on a new lover. (CJ315)

Albert Camus at the Deux Magots in Paris, 1945
(Photographer unknown)

Combat was a magazine of the French Resistance. Albert Camus had been made editor in March 1944. (CJ287) In November 1944 the United States government invited eight French reporters to the U.S. to report on the war effort. (CJ308) Camus asked Sartre if he was interested in representing Combat. (CJ308) Sartre accepted. In addition to writing for Combat while in the U.S. Sartre also wrote for Le Figaro. (CJ311) His first article for Le Figaro was submitted on January 22nd and covered French supporters in the U.S. of Vichy Chief of State Philippe Pétain vs. those who backed Charles de Gaulle. (CJ311) While in the U.S. Sartre met Dolorès Vanetti, a French-speaking journalist of Italian and Ethiopian descent who presented the show féminim on the Voice of America during the war.

From A Dangerous Liaison: Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre by Carole Seymour-Jones:

At first Dolorès had no idea who Sartre was. She confused his name with that of a sculptor, Raoul del Sartre, whom she had once known. But the OWI [Office of War Information] soon put her right. Sartre, author of The Wall, a leader of the CNE [Comité National des Écrivains], had, according to Atlantic Monthly, which had publicised 'The Republic of Silence' in translation, 'devoted himself to underground activities with sublime courage, organizing illegal publications representing the most brilliant tendencies of postwar French literature.' Sartre put his usual technique of seduction into practice, making Dolorès feel that she was the most important woman in the world. Within two days he had slept with her. 'Dolores gave me America,' recalled Sartre in 1974. (CJ311)

Sartre and the other French journalists (under close surveillance of the FBI) spent eight weeks touring the U.S. on a B-29 bomber, visiting factories, schools, army bases and anything else the government thought they should see. Sartre commented "We'll have seen more steel and aluminium than human beings." (CJ312) Among the human beings the journalists did meet was President Roosevelt with whom they had an audience on March 10th at the White House. (CJ312) Sartre also met up with André Breton in New York. (CJ317)

In addition to reporting back to France about the U.S., Sartre also reported to the Americans about activities in France. In July 1945 Vogue magazine published his comments about French writers (with an emphasis on Camus) that he made during a lecture (billed as "New Writing in France") at Columbia University. (CS)

Sartre returned to France at the end of May. (CJ317) He would return to the U.S. the following year (see 1946).

c. 1945: Barnett Newman finishes "The Plasmic Image."

See From "The Plasmic Image" by Barnett Newman

According to Thomas Hess in Barnett Newman, the eleven-part essay was written "from around 1943 through 1945." (TH22) The Barnett Newman Foundation places the "The Plasmic Image" in 1945 in their chronology. (MH)

1945: Barnett Newman rents a studio on Mangin Street, off Houston Street in lower Manhattan. (MH)
1945: Guggenheim Museum purchases 11 paintings and 1 gouache by Adolph Gottlieb.
1945: Mark Rothko is included in the Whitney Annual.

Rothko's work would be included in seven Whitney exhibits between 1945 and 1950. (RO232)

1945: Franz Kline and wife are evicted from 150 West Fourth Street.

The real estate manager for the building wanted to lease the entire house to one party. Franz and Elizabeth moved to the top floor of a four-story building on Hudson Street. (FK178)

1945: Philip Guston has his first solo exhibition.

Philip Guston, Sanctuary, 1944

The exhibition was at the Midtown Galleries in New York. Although it was well-received critically, Philip's high school classmate, Jackson Pollock wasn't so impressed. One of Guston's students Stephen Greene (who posed for Guston's Sanctuary in 1944) later recalled that after the opening they went to a restaurant and Pollock showed up "ragingly drunk" and "upbraided Philip for some form of aesthetic betrayal." (MM37)

H.H. Arnason, Philip Guston (exh. cat.) (NY: Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 1962), p. 15:

Sanctuary, 1944, (no. 2) was painted in Iowa City, and shows details of an Iowa City street in the background. The color, in deep reds and greens, has here become much richer; the figure is modelled in color and light and shadow in a manner suggestive of the Venetian Renaissance. The reclining boy stares out at the spectator with an expression of haunting melancholy which carries the withdrawn expression of the figures in Martial Memory to the point of romantic nostalgia. This and other single figures of this time, accomplished as they are in traditional terms, seem to be almost a retrogression, a denial of the contemporary world which he had been exploring. However, they were necessary technical experiments to complete his control of the oil medium, and they were necessary personal experiments in his search for a subject matter.

These lyrical, sensuously painted figures were immediately popular, and enhanced the growing reputation of the artist, although not in terms which necessarily pleased him. In 1945, he won first prize at the Carnegie International for a comparable single figure, entitled Sentimental Moment, 1944. As a result he was given a three page color spread in Life magazine (May 27, 1946), in which, however, he protested that he did not like the literal approach of his prize winning painting.

1945: Franz Kline paints The Synagogue.

The painting in the style of Rembrandt was commissioned by I. David Orr who Kline had met in 1939. The left half of the work was based on a photograph that Orr gave to Kline of Jewish pilgrims reading the scriptures inside a shelter in Palestine during the 1920s. (FK47)

January 2, 1945: Arshile Gorky subleases his New York studio and moves into David Hare's house in Roxbury, Connecticut. (BA376/MS284)

Although a rural environment, Connecticut was much more connected with Manhattan than Virginia. Other artists lived in the area, including Yves Tanguy (who was with the Pierre Matisse Gallery) and his wife Kay Sage who the Gorkys visited. Although Tanguy could speak little English, Gorky's wife Agnes translated for both and wrote to her friend Jeanne Reynal that Gorky and Tanguy were "very fond of each other." (MS291) The Gorkys also saw a lot of the Calders. Alexander Calder was called Sandy and Gorky's daughter Maro would confuse "Sandy" with "Santa" as in "Santa Claus." Calder later recalled that Gorky "seemed a bit unhappy." (MS292).

January 9 - February 9, 1945: Mark Rothko's first solo exhibition at Peggy Guggenheim's Art of This Century Gallery.

Mark Rothko's solo show at Art of This Century consisted of 15 oil paintings and some gouaches, including Gyrations on Four Planes, Birth of the Cephalopods, The Syrian Bull, The Sacrifice of Iphigenia (1942), Slow Swirl at the Edge of the Sea (1944) and Gethsemane (priced at $550). (RO208/211/252/SS361) Also included were two paintings titled Entombment I and Entombment II, however, according to art writer David Anfam neither of the works were identical to later paintings by Rothko of the same name. (SS437)

On November 15, 1944 Mark Rothko mentioned the preparations for the exhibition in a letter to his sister, Sonia:

Mark Rothko [from the letter dated November 15, 1944]:

My exhibition opens on January 9th and I am painting feverishly not because I need the pictures but because I hope by miracles to outdo myself (as if one can). In addition, I am framing my own pictures, seeing loads of people, going miserably into debt, because it takes money to put up a show right. I hope to sell enough to cover that expense. Such is my life. (RO209)

Rothko also told his sister that he had "made powerful friends for my work in the last year" and that "my chances are good for finding an important place for myself in the art-life of our times." (RO209) The "powerful friends" that Rothko referred to but did not name were possibly Peggy Guggenheim and her advisor, Howard Putzel. Esther Gottlieb later recalled that "During the time when Mark was with Peggy, that group that was with Peggy felt superior to everybody else." (RO211)

Although the show received generally favourable reviews, it didn't have the impact of Jackson Pollock's solo show in November 1943 at the gallery and only three works were sold for a total of $265. Peggy Guggenheim bought Slow Swirl at the Edge of the Sea. (RO212)

January 1945: Miró exhibition (Constellations) at the Pierre Matisse Gallery. (BA370)

The show included Miro's The Constellations and ceramics.

January 1945: Willem de Kooning wins a competition.

The competition was organized by the Container Corporation of America which had established a corporate collection of art in 1937, the same year that IBM started a well publicized campaign of sponsoring artists. Early acquisitions by the Container Corporation included works by Léger, Henry Moore and Ben Shahn. In 1944 they announced a competition in which they would select work for their collection. De Kooning won in January 1945 for his painting The Netherlands which his biographers note is "more closely related to his commercial illustrations than to his serious paintings..." (DK185) Joop Sanders, who knew de Kooning at the time, recalled that when de Kooning was working on the competition, he "was looking at Dutch postcards and doing a layout." (DK185)

February 1945: "Personal Statement: Painting Prophecy, 1950" exhibition at the David Porter Gallery in Washington D.C. (RO238/AG172)

The exhibition attempted to predict the direction that art might take in the next five years. Porter was a friend of Peggy Guggenheim and Howard Putzel which was reflected in his choice of artists, many of whom had exhibited at Guggenheim's gallery or the gallery that Putzel ran after splitting from Guggenheim.

Artists included William Baziotes, Robert Motherwell, Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Adolph Gottlieb, Willem de Kooning, Bradley Walker Tomlin, Richard Pousette-Dart, Louise Bourgeois and Jimmy Ernst, (SS366/RO) In Rothko's "personal statement" for the exhibition, he declared, "I adhere to the material reality of the world and the substance of things." (RO210)

[Note: The "Selected Bibliography" in Adolph Gottlieb: A Retrospective lists the catalogue for the exhibition with the dates of May 14 - July 7, 1945 - the same dates as the "A Problem for Critics" exhibition at Howard Putzel's 67 gallery. Other art writers - such as Martica Sawin and Rothko biographer James E.B. Breslin indicate that the "Personal Statement" exhibition took place in February. (RO209-10, SS438n29, SS366)

February 1945: American and British planes firebomb Dresden.

During the same month America started carpet bombing Tokyo and other Japanese cities. They also engaged the Japanese in combat during the Recapture of Corregidor in the Philippines from February 16th to the 26th and the Battle of Iwo Jima during February and March. (RO209)

March 1945: Adolph Gottlieb at Howard Putzel's 67 Gallery (East 57th Street).

Edward Alden Jewell [from The New York Times review]:

Jon Stroup in a brief catalogue foreword prepares us to be unprepared. Do not be misled into supposing, he cautions us, that this artist's hieroglyphics can be interpreted simply on an intellectual basis. For although the intellect plays an important part in the esthetic appreciation of the pictograph, it will seriously mislead the spectator if relied on exclusively; the symbolism is too personal. The assimilation of images is more than a process of addition, and their whole content is experienced only when it has penetrated the subconscious. In so far as one can speak of a final analysis the pictograph is mysterious, enigmatic, profoundly so when most fully experienced... Gottlieb's color is sometimes pleasant, even ingratiating. From the standpoint of design, his habitual compartmentalizing makes the statement, whatever the substance of its 'message,' quite static. (EC)

March 1945: American Abstract Artists' Annual exhibition at the Riverside Museum in New York.

Edward Alden Jewell [from The New York Times review]:

Naturally all of this art is abstract, and all save about a quarter of 1 percent of it is nonobjective. Since nonobjective art is so largely a matter of just of arranging and rearranging shapes and lines and spaces, and since the personnel of this artist organization remains about the same, there appears no very marked change from year to year. The ranks just now are temporarily thinned, absent members being Balcomb Green [sic], Hananiah Harari, Carl Holty, George McNeil, I. Rice Pereira, A.D.F. Reinhardt, Florence Swift, Albert Swinden, Jean Xceron and Hans Richter... Of the two dozen painters who have contributed Joseph Albers, Giorgio Cavallon, Susie Frelinghuysen, Alice Mason, Joseph Meierhans, A.E. Gallatin and L. Moholy-Nagy help most perhaps to keep the show at its proper level. (EC)

March 1945: Matta solo exhibition at Pierre Matisse.

Matta, X Space and the Ego, 1945 (202.2 x 457.2 cm)

The exhibition included large canvases such as X Space and the Ego measuring 202.2 x 457.2 cm.

From Surrealism in Exile and the Beginning of the New York School by Martica Sawin:

Size was only one of the attention-getting components of Matta's new canvases: his previously uninhabited paintings appeared to have been taken over by invaders from another planet. Faceless quasi-human tubular figures were twisted into contorted poses or galvanized by a current from the wiry lines that spun in lops and circles across the surface of these new works. Were these the "Great Transparents" that Matta had illustrated for Breton when he announced his new myth in the first issue of VVV? Was their shape inspired by Giacometti's Invisible Object, the plaster for which Matta had just acquired? Or by Hopi kachinas? Or by Wilfredo Lam's elongated jungle figures? All have been suggested as sources... Without the seductive color and vertiginous but alluring spaces, Matta's new paintings verged on the cartoonish, leading Greenberg to actually refer to him as "that little comic stripper." (SS372-3)

Edward Alden Jewell reviewed the show for The New York Times.

Edward Alden Jewell [from The New York Times review]:

Those who may have come to feel in a degree at home with the abstractions Matta has exhibited here previously will now, visiting the Pierre Matisse, find themselves, so to speak, homeless... Gone, almost entirely, is the fugacious play of colored shapes that used once to bring to mind compositions designed by Thomas Wilfred for the Clavilux. We had even come to refer to one prevalent color as Matta magenta. The palette is now severely stepped down, and the erstwhile superimposition of calligraphic arabesque has been tightened into forms - still abstract, but much more definitely defined as such. These new forms are developed far enough to connote (if chiefly in the catalogue) humans and objects pertaining to the natural world. But do not expect too much of them in this connection - warning sufficiently illustrated by the "Apple Eater," which we reproduce. It is a strange and rather terrifying breed that Matt's brush has bred. All of these men and women resemble weird mechanized insects. Yet, oddly they live, and the sense of vibrant motion is startlingly conveyed.

Another new phase should be stressed. Matta here redeems a promise that has again and again adumbrated potentiality waiting to be realized. In several of the present paintings he expands his scheme to mural dimensions. And it is in the full sense of the term, not just in size alone, that this larger expression is attained. (EC)

March 5 - 31, 1945: Jackson Pollock solo exhibition at The Arts Club of Chicago.

The show consisted of seventeen paintings and eight drawings. Paintings included Guardians of the Secret, The Mad Moon-Woman (1941) (not to be confused with The Moon Woman of 1942), Male and Female, The Moon Woman (1942), Pasiphaë, Stenographic Figure and eight untitled paintings. A selection of the works traveled to the San Francisco Museum of Art later in the year. (PP321)

March 6 - March 31, 1945: Arshile Gorky's first solo show at the Julien Levy gallery. (MA310)

The exhibition included fully abstract paintings by Gorky with paint applied "allover" - painting to the edge of the canvas with no or little white space showing - and the use of runny paint allowed to drip after being applied onto the canvas. Works included Water of the Flowery Mill, How My Mother's Apron Unfolds in My Life, The Leaf of the Artichoke Is an Owl, and One Year the Milkweed. (SS369)

The opening was sparsely attended, although Gorky and Agnes were there. None of their pre-Surrealism old artist friends attended, but Bernard Davis was there as was Marcel Duchamp, Serge Chermayeff and Pierre Matisse. As Gorky aligned himself with the Surrealists, he began to lose touch with other artist friends. Saul Schary would later comment on this process after Gorky's death: "Most of Gorky's old friends were supplanted by the Surrealists," he told Gorky biographer Matthew Spender. According to Schary, Gorky's "old friends had been weeded out." (MS341) Gorky, according to Barnett Newman "was the white-haired boy of Breton and the Surrealists." (MS341) In 1957 Stuart Davis would write that Gorky "got mixed up with a swarm of migrant Surrealists who fixed him up pretty good in more ways than one." (MS341)

The night of the opening André Breton took the Gorkys to dinner at Bernard Reis' house and they also attended supper at Pierre Matisse's the next day. (MA286) They had to stay in a hotel because they had rented out their Union Square studio. To pay for their stay in New York Agnes sold a diamond pin, the only piece of jewelry she had from her grandmother, for $60 which had been insured for $3,000. (MS286)

Breton wrote an essay ("The Eye-Spring: Arshile Gorky") for the catalogue in which he praised Gorky for being an artist that painted by instinct and by analogy ("this is like" instead of "this is") and stressed the importance of nature in Gorky's work. Breton noted that "of all the Surrealist artists, [Gorky is] the only one who maintains direct contact with nature - sits down to paint before her" adding that Gorky decoded nature "to reveal the very rhythm of life." In regard to Gorky's use of analogy, Breton hailed The Liver is the Comb of the Cock "as the great door opening to the analogical world." (SS368/MS287)

The reviews of the show were mixed. Maude Riley in Art Digest wrote that viewers of the works "will be confused by Breton's attribution of profundity to paints by an artist who rejects all intellectual recognition of subject and loses his un-literary compulsions in a debauch of emotionalism." She referred to Gorky's paintings as "incoherent 'accident' paintings (and don't try to deny this because a good percentage of the areas of his new paintings are running drips of turpentine)." (MS288) In the Nation Clement Greenberg wrote "Gorky has a last taken the easy way out - corrupted perhaps by the worldly success of the Surrealists." He thought Gorky had turned his back on masters like Picasso and Miro in order to follow early Kadinsky and Matta (who Greenberg referred to as "that prince of comic-strippers"). He singled out one painting, however, They Will Take My Island, as "a partial return to serious painting" and "a genuine contemporary work of art." (MS289)

Gorky's wife Agnes wrote to Jeanne Reynal on April 8, 1945: "Don't for one minute think the critics didn't trouble Gorky," noting that "for two months he was paralysed and agonized in a fever of self-criticism brought on by the suicidal attempt to see himself as others see him." (MS293) Gorky seemed to take on hand Greenberg's criticism and for the next few months produced more than a dozen works in a similar style to They Will Take My Island. (MS294)

Only two of the works in the exhibition were sold. Alfred Barr took one painting to the Museum of Modern Art for the purchasing committee to vote on, but returned it without purchasing it - although the museum would eventually acquire The Water of the Flowery Mill which was included in the exhibition. (MA/MS286) Jeanne Reynal bought They Will Take My Island and another painting was sold to Wolf Schwabacher. The exhibition also included The Water of the Flowery Mill (1944), now in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. (MS293)

Mid-late March, 1945: André Breton and Elisa Claro spend a weekend with the Gorkys in Roxbury. (MS289)

Breton asked Gorky to illustrate a book of poems he was bringing out - Young Cherry Trees Secured Against Hares.

March 12 - 31, 1945: Adolph Gottlieb one-man show at the 67 Gallery in New York. (AG173)
March 13 - April 11, 1945: "European Artists in America" exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art.

The exhibition, which occupied all galleries on both floors of the museum, consisted of 41 painters and sculptors who had arrived in the United States since 1938. Artists included Cristofanetti, Joseph Floch, Stanley William Hayter, Kurt Seligmann, Pavel Tchelitchew, Marc Chagall, André Girard, Jean Hélion, Eric Eisenburger, Enrico Donati and Matta, Amédée Ozenfant, Piet Mondrian, Marcel Duchamp, Salvador Dali, Max Ernst, Moïse Kisling, Fernand Léger, Jacques Lipchitz, Mané-Katz, André Masson, Yves Tanguy, William Thoeny and Ossip Zadkine, Borislav Bogdanovich, André Breton, Ru Israels, Jacqueline Lamba, Oscar Miestchaninoff, Johannes Molzahn, Joep Nicolas, Suzanne Nicolas, André Racz, Bernard Reder, Franz Rederer, Josef Scharl, Julius W. Schulein, Victor Tischler and Karin van Leyden. (EA/EC)

Edward Alden Jewell noted in his announcement of the show which appeared on March 13th in The New York Times, "A very large percentage of the work is abstract, either completely so or in high degree. Other prime Twentieth Century movements are, however, represented: Surrealism for instance, and Neoromanticism and Expressionism. Nearly everything on view is strongly 'modernist' in flavor..." (EA)

Herman More, the curator of the exhibition wrote the foreword for the catalogue, commenting "From colonial days it has been the genius of America to absorb foreign influences in art, and from these sources to develop distinctive national characteristics..." (EC) Jewell included More's comment in his review of the show which was published on March 18th in The New York Times five days after the original announcement about the show.

Edward Alden Jewell (The New York Times, March 18):

I fear, alas, that it has been the genius of America to fall for foreign influences rather than truly to absorb them. And I still believe, as I have so long believed, that 'universal' is, creatively speaking, a much more consequential word than 'international'... I cannot subscribe to the notion that 'distinctive national characteristics' are ever developed by way of 'foreign influences.' The process is an inward one, and we find intimations of nationhood based on a profound awareness of... selfhood. (EC)

In the same review, Jewell wrote that "Breton's meticulously mounted gadgets add up esthetically to zero..." (EC)

[Note: Martica Sawin refers to the exhibition as "European Artists in Exile." (SS375)]

March 19 - April 14, 1945: Jackson Pollock's second solo show at Art of This Century.

The exhibition consisted of thirteen paintings including Totem Lesson 1, Totem Lesson 2, Night Mist and There Were Seven in Eight and various gouaches and drawings. On opening day visitors were invited to view Jackson Pollock's Mural at Peggy Guggenheim's town house. (PP321) Clement Greenberg, who became a regular visitor to Pollock's studio, reviewed the show in the April 7, 1945 issue of The Nation:

Clement Greenberg (The Nation, April 7, 1945):

Pollock's second one-man show at Art of This Century establishes him, in my opinion, as the strongest painter of his generation and perhaps the greatest to appear since Miro... There has been a certain amount of self-deception in School of Paris art since the exit of Cubism. In Pollock there is absolutely none, and he is not afraid to look ugly - all profoundly original art looks ugly at first. (JP154)

Other critics weren't so favourable. Maude Riley wrote in the April 1, 1945 issue of Art Digest, "I really don't get what it's all about." Parker Tyler compared Pollock's work to "baked macaroni" in the May 1945 issue of View. The New Yorker and The New York Times failed to review the second show.

None of the paintings from the exhibition sold. Greenberg noted "At this time Ben Shahn was considered the best living American painter, and he sold." (JP154)

March 21 - May 13, 1945: Piet Mondrian retrospective at The Museum of Modern Art.

Barnett Newman [from "The Plasmic Image"]:

There has been a great to-do lately over Mondrian's genius. In his fanatic purism, his point of view is the matrix of the abstract esthetic. His concept, like that of his colleagues, is however founded on bad philosophy and on a faulty logic. Mondrian claims that should we reduced the world to its basic shape, we would see that it is made up of horizontal and vertical lines... Were this over-simplification true, what logical process is it that asserts that since the world is made up of vertical and horizontal lines, therefore a picture made up of such lines is the world or a true picture of it?

The insistence of the abstract artists that subject matter must be eliminated, that art be made pure, has served to create a similar result to that of Mohammedan art which insisted on eliminating anthropomorphic shapes. Both fanaticisms which strive towards an abstract purity force the art to become a mere arabesque. Modern abstract painting is only a new form of the decorative arabesque... The new painter owes the abstract artist a debt for giving him his language, but the new painting is concerned with a new type of abstract thought... (TH24)

March - April 1945: Franz Kline exhibits again at the National Academy Annual.

Kline showed his impressionistic painting, The Playground, at the 119th Annual Exhibition at the National Academy of Design. (FK178)

Edward Alden Jewell [from The New York Times review]:

... the Academy can point with pride to an upholding of art that is 'sound' if not experimentally exciting. Of course the boundaries are somewhat nebulous. Had Stanley Crane permitted a wisp of smoke from the Duchamp bottle on the current View cover, his Saltus Medal canvas, which we reproduce, would have been last-minute surrealism instead of factual academic trompe l'oeil naturalism. but Marcel Duchamp and View should have been let in later, not ushered brashly into the Academy's lead. (EC)

Although Jewell neglected to mention Kline's work, he did comment on Louis De Valentin's "swiftly and sharply expressionist 'Bar Room;'" and "Quaker Ridge Farm" by William R. Watson, who may have shocked some academicians by painting reputable snow and not needing vivid blue for shadows - rather unorthodox I should say." (EC)

March 31, 1945: Mark Rothko marries Mary Alice ("Mell") Beistle in Linden, New Jersey. (RO209)

Rothko was nineteen years older than his new (second) wife. Unlike Rothko who had grown up in modest surroundings as an immigrant outsider, Mell (b. January 3, 1922) was American-born (Cleveland, Ohio) to upper middle-class parents. Her father, Morton Beistle, owned Allied Products Corporation, a road construction company. She was the eldest of four children - a brother Robert (b. 1920), a sister Barbara (b. 1924) and another sister Shirley (b. 1928). Her mother Aldarilla [née Shipley] had creative aspirations. She wrote and adapted children's plays performed by the Players on Wheels and the Cleveland Public Playhouse. She also hosted a children's radio program on a local station. Mell, encouraged by her mother, took classes at the Cleveland Art Institute. When she won an elementary school art contest she won a copy of The Graphic Bible which Mark Rothko (then Marcus Rothkowitz) had illustrated. In high school she was a member of the Literary, Art and Motion Picture Appreciation clubs and helped to start Crest, the school's literary magazine, becoming its editor. When she was sixteen years old she collaborated with her mother on the first of five children's books - text by Aldarilla and illustrations by Mell. She started college at Skidmore in upstate New York in September 1939, majoring in fine and applied arts and worked for the art department matting and framing work for student shows. During her senior year she was engaged to a member of the Royal Canadian Air Force who was killed in the war during her senior year.

In her junior year "Mell" was elected president of her class. In her senior year she was a member of various school boards - the executive board, the judicial board and the honour board. She was the art editor of the Profile, the school literary magazine and was president of student government. Her school's senior yearbook identified her as one of the "Big Three" in her senior class. In June 1943 she graduated from Skidmore and returned to Cleveland where her father had died (of a heart attack) in April the same year. (Mell's brother was also killed while she was in college - in a trucking accident while working for their father's company). She stayed in Cleveland, working as a draftsman at the Parker Appliance Company for approximately nine months and then moved to New York (21 Jones Street) in the spring of 1944. She had already spent several summers there. In New York she worked for McFadden Publications who published pulp magazines such as True Confessions and True Stories. Her job was to do sketches which would then be used to pose models who were then photographed for the magazines - the job she had when she met Mark Rothko. When she went home for Christmas of 1944 she told her sister, Shirley, that she had met "this marvelous Russian," meaning Rothko. Whereas Rothko's previous wife was considered "chilly," Mell was considered "warm" - according to George and Blanche Okun, (George lived at Rothko's Park Place apartment), "she was the opposite of Edith that way." According to Rothko's friend Stanley Kunitz "Mark was a kind of divinity to her." Mell usually referred to her husband as Rothko, rather than calling him by his first name. (RO216-21)

Spring 1945: Mark Rothko exhibition at the Mortimer Brandt Gallery.

Betty Parsons presented Rothko's watercolours at the gallery. (LM19)

Spring 1945: Robert Motherwell spends spring with William Baziotes in Florida.
April 1, 1945: The Battle of Okinawa begins.

The battle would last 82 days and result in the deaths of 70,000 Japanese, 10,000 Americans and 80,000 Okinawans. (RO209)

April 1945: Barnett and Annalee Newman learn of the deportation of Annalee's relatives in France.

Annalee's relatives were deported from France by the Nazis. (By this time the Newmans would also have known about the decimation of the Jewish population that occurred in 1941 and 1942 in Lomza, Poland where Newman's parents came from.) (MH)

April 1945: The Samuel Kootz gallery opens.

According to Kootz, "The gallery was officially opened in 1945 although it was in existence from 1944 when we began to subsidize Robert Motherwell and William Baziotes. The first show that we had in 1945 was that of Léger... We opened at 15 East 57th and stayed there through the spring of 1948." (KD) After taking on Motherwell and Baziotes Kootz recalls, "we then took on after that Byron Browne and Carl Holty and Adolph Gottlieb. It wasn't until 1947 that we took on [Hans] Hofmann. (KD) (Kootz would drop Browne and Holty when he re-opened his gallery on Madison Avenue in 1949.)

Instead of taking a commission on paintings Kootz gave his artists a $200 stipend in exchange for a yearly quota of seventy-five paintings. Robert Motherwell later recalled, "It was really bad for a young artist such as myself to be committed to so much work. He was always desperate for money and drove himself and us very hard." (RO253)

The extent to which Kootz was "desperate for money" may have been reflected in his advertising which was often geared to people who would not normally collect art. For a show themed around "The Big Top" he promised the "Gayest show of the year." "Hurry, hurry, hurry" his ad proclaimed, "see clowns, tumblers, acrobats - admission absolutely free." For his "Strange and wonderful" show dealing with "The Birds and the Beasts" he promised "world renowned artists (with a dubious bow to nature)" featuring work by "Picasso, Braque, Arp, Miro, Dubuffet, Calder, Baziotes, Browne, Gottlieb, Motherwell, Hare, Holty and Hofmann... with, occasionally, a few ladies thrown in." (SG123)

From How New York Stole the Idea of Modern Art by Serge Guilbaut:

From the first, Kootz championed internationalism, fashionable in the years when he was starting out (1945-56). He represented not only artists like Motherwell, Gottlieb, Baziotes, Holty, Browne, and Bearden but also painters from the Paris school such as Léger, Picasso, Arp, Braque, Miro, and Mondrian... Kootz staged a series of shows to attract a new audience of collectors, including an exhibition of broker Roy Neuberger's collection of modern American art. Devoted to domestic works, this exhibition was a resounding success. In addition to canvases by painters affiliated with the Kootz gallery, there were works by Alexander Calder, George L.K. Morris, Jacob Lawrence, Horace Pippin, Abraham Ratner and Jack Levine. The press was unanimous in its praise for Kootz. (SG98/121)

Samuel Kootz:

The important thing that motivated my taking the various men was the highly subjective expression that the men were giving, the sort of thing that led to the, oh, introspection and almost automatism, in a way , of a number of the better Abstract Expressionist painters... although my first show was Léger, my second show was Fritz Glarner, who of course was a strong adherent of Mondrian's painting. At one one, we thought that we would take on Glarner. But this exposure to his painting militated against it, and we felt that this was not the direction we wanted to go in. This was objective, highly objective direction, and we wanted to go in a more subjective direction. (KD)

In 1947 Kootz would also host the first post-war exhibition of Picasso (see January 27 - February 15, 1947). In spring 1948 Kootz moved his operation into an apartment at 470 Park Avenue after becoming Picasso's agent (see spring 1948.)

1945: Robert Motherwell signs a five year exclusive contract with the Samuel Kootz Gallery.

Robert Motherwell:

... at that particular moment, which must have been at the end of 1944 or early in 1945 he [Sam Kootz] decided that he wanted to start a gallery; and because he had no financial backing they would have to be young artists, they would have to be modern artists. I think his favorite artist in Europe was Léger. He liked strong, masculine, semi-abstract artists. The only inducement he could have would be to pay the artists. so he offered us two hundred bucks a month for our complete works which had to be a minimum of seventy-five works a year - drawings, watercolors, paintings, etcetera. It also was the end of the WPA. It was the one chance to be supported entirely by one's own work, difficult as the terms were. I insisted I wouldn't go unless he took Baziotes, too, who was desperate. Kootz was reluctant to but finally did. He also took Gottlieb, Hofmann, David Hare, Carl Holty, somebody else, I forget who. And he started the gallery. Peggy as a corollary had always made it very clear that she really wanted to live in Europe and that the day that war was over she was going to move the whole damn thing back to Europe. She had originally meant to have her gallery in London, and she didn't know whether she was going to take it back to London or where. As it turned out, she took it back to Venice. She always very clearly said to us, "I will help you as long as I'm here in whatever way I can, but the day I go you're on your own." I think it was only Pollock that she made some kind of arrangement to take care of. The rest of us were really on our own. Nearly everybody who had showed with her went either to Kootz or to Betty Parsons.

... Because he had so few artists one thing was you had to have a show every year. I'd only been painting two-and-a-half years when he got me and wasn't that experienced. I think in my first two shows I really tried too hard to meet his demands. From that standpoint it was bad; in fact a really awful for an inexperienced artist to tie himself up that will-nilly he was going to produce so much work. On the other hand, one has to balance that with the fact that he was the only person in the world who would have paid us anything at all to go about painting and the fact that from his point of view the more we painted the better. Also I think in a certain way he was something of a hero - he also had bad faults - but he was something of a hero in that he was really the first person who took it upon himself to convince the American art establishment that modern American artists were also worthy of recognition. He fought like a tiger for that. He was also totally unfinanced, had to borrow money from Chinatown at fantastic rates of interest, maybe twelve percent a month. He was always desperate. And in that sense there was always much much to much pressure on us, on him, etcetera. On the other hand it gave him a drive that Betty Parsons, for example, who is a great lady, who had connections, who - on the modest scale that she operated I think probably always could have got sufficient capital - was not hungry enough. (SR)

April 12, 1945: Harry Truman becomes President of the United States. (SG104)
April 13, 1945: Combat magazine reports on Buchenwald.

Combat printed a detailed description of the conditions at the recently liberated Buchenwald camp. The same day de Gaulle met with women from the Ravensbruck camp where two-thirds of the 150,000 women imprisoned there had died. (SS377)

May 8, 1945: Germany surrenders. (RO209/SS375)
May 14 - July 7, 1945: "A Problem for Critics" exhibition at Howard Putzel's 67 Gallery.

Artists included Hans Hofmann, Lee Krasner, Mark Rothko, Andre Masson, Matta, Jackson Pollock, Lee Krasner, Richard Pousette-Dart, Charles Seliger, Rufino Tamayo, Arshile Gorky, Adolph Gottlieb, Miró, Hans Arp and Picasso. (MD270/SS366)

The problem for the critics was defining the new art movement and naming it. Putzel suggested "metamorphism" or "new metamorphism." (RO209)

Barnett Newman [from "The Plasmic Image" (c. 1943- 1945)]

Mr. H. Putzel in his recent exhibition at his 67 Gallery called "A Problem for Critics" has shown the need of explaining and perhaps naming the new movement in painting that is taking place in America. That such a movement exists - although not organized in the way the Surrealist and Cubist movements were organized - is certain. (TH24)

Newman mentioned some of the members of this new movement as Mark Rothko, Adolph Gottlieb, Arshile Gorky, Jackson Pollock and William Baziotes. In regard to the movement in general, he wrote "it is important to understand that only a few of these men who as some believe are combining Surrealism and abstract painting stem from either movement. That is the danger of crystallized movements. Their limitations are binding, except in the very strong..." (TH24)

Barnett Newman:

Essentially these painters were dissatisfied with realism yet they could not enter into the reactions against realism typified by the abstract and Surrealist artists... they could not accept the dream world of the Surrealists... In New York it is now admitted that Surrealism is dead... Abstract art in America has to a large extent been the preoccupation of the dull, who by ignoring subject matter, remove themselves from life to engage in a pastime of decorative art... Even the stimulus of Mondrian has done little to change the character of the work, even though his example as artist and man has created respect for the steadfastness to principle these artists have maintained... (TH25)

Summer 1945: Robert Motherwell teaches at Black Mountain College, North Carolina. (RM131)

He would also teach there during the 1951 summer season.

Robert Motherwell:

...I mean in those days I couldn't afford to go anywhere for the summer. They paid a hundred dollars a month to distinguished visitors and they themselves had an income of twenty-five dollars a month. But it was in the mountains and it was sunny and there were marvelous guys there. And it was a way of getting a break from New York and at the same time going to a place that one would not feel alienated from. Black Mountain more than any place was the avant garde college that Americans had. Reed College in Oregon wasn't then. Bennington wasn't then. But Black Mountain really was. And since my whole commitment was to the avant garde, nothing could have been more natural than to go there, given all the circumstances... Among my students were Rauschenberg, Cy Twombly, Francine Gray, and others. It was a very small community and apart from my classes the thing I remember with the greatest pleasure and realist contact was through the baseball games we played on Sundays. I remember - what's his name who had the press in North Carolina - a poet... Jonathan Williams. He was a superb centerfielder. I remember Joel Oppenheim pitching. I remember Charles Olson playing first base with a tremendous beat. I remember Dan Reis, a marvelous catcher. I remember Fielding Dawson egging us all on with Southern whoops, and so on. And it's odd, there in a funny way at the baseball games all the various areas, camps, blue jeans, Brooks Brothers, whatever it was, it all suddenly was flattened out and we were all just playing a marvelous game together and having a ball. We did that every Saturday and Sunday.

... Black Mountain was really a farm on - I don't know whether it was a mountain or a hill or whatever. But I remember very clearly the first time I was there was either during the war or right after the war when rationing was on. The closest town was Asheville which I gather is a rather aristocratic Southern town, in a way like Greenwich here. You couldn't get cigarettes at that time. i remember going into a drug store to buy something and seeing cartons of English Players cigarettes, which I like. I like practically all cigarettes. I asked, "Could I have a pack of those?" The guy said, "You can have as many as you want." This was at a time when you had to bribe somebody to get one package. I think I had enough money with me to buy three cartons - which I bought. When my stretch was over there I was on the train going back to New York. It was filled with soldiers. Many of the cars were non-smoking. It was the old-fashioned kind of train where there was a sort of bathroom with a little foyer with a bench where you also could sit and smoke and shave and so on. I remember going back there and smoking. There was a big fat Southerner there maybe shaving. he saw me take out the Players package which is a cardboard one where you shove the cigarettes out, unlike an American package. He asked, "What are those?" I said, "English cigarettes. Would you like one?" He said, "Yes." He took one and we started talking and he asked me what I was doing, or whatever. I told him I had been teaching at Black Mountain and I was on my way back to New York. He immediately flew into a rage that it was a bunch of what we now would call hippies, homosexuals, New york Jews - I don't know what all. I got up and left. And from things I've hears afterward I would have the feeling that the whole community around felt that way; that this was a hippie camp or whatever, that hey wished the hell everybody would pick up and get out. From that standpoint Long Island would have been much more reasonable. (SR)

Summer 1945: Wolfgang Paalen stays with Robert Motherwell.
Summer 1945: Clyfford Still shows Mark Rothko 1944-G and 1945-H. (RO226)

The two paintings by Still were among works that he showed to Rothko while he (Still) was living in New York during the summer of 1945. Rothko biographer, James E.B. Breslin notes that both these paintings established that "at this time, Still's work was more advanced than Rothko's, as well as that of Rothko's closest artist friends, [Adolph] Gottlieb and [Barnett] Newman. Still had moved beyond Surrealism. Both of these Still paintings are large-scale works, completely nonfigurative, composed of immense, raw areas of dull somber colors, through which thin, jagged lighter forms seems to crack. At one time he [Clyfford Still] called these shapes 'life-lines'; at another, he stated that his 'fluid, often flame-like vertical shapes have been influenced by the flatness of the Dakota plains; they are living forms springing from the ground.'" (RO226-7)

to 1945 (b)

Abstract Expressionism

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