Abstract Expressionism

Ab Ex Contents

Ab Ex Essays


Abstract Expressionism 1946

by Gary Comenas (2009, Updated 2016)

Aramov [1946]: "The effect of art should - normally - be to make us happy. The effect of abstract art is merely to make us anxious, afraid, unhappy, desperate. Is this not enough to classify it as a negative art?" (SG129)

1946: Increase of art galleries and sales from 1940 to 1946.

Sales by 57th Street galleries increased by 300% between 1940 and 1946. (RO251) The number of galleries in New York grew from 40 at the beginning of the war to 140 by 1946. (SG91)

January 1946: Jean-Paul Sartre lectures in the U.S. on Existentialism.

This was Sartre's second trip to the U.S. He had previously visited in 1945 as part of a contingent of French reporters invited by the U.S. government. (See January 12, 1945).

By the time of his second visit only two short stories, one play (No Exit) and a few articles (including "The Republic of Silence" published in the December 1944 issue of Atlantic Monthly) had appeared in English. But his reputation, like that of the Surrealist Breton had preceeded him. Time magazine noted in an article titled "Existentialism" in their January 28, 1946 issue that "The literary lion of Paris bounced into Manhattan last week for a brief lecture tour (stops at Yale, Harvard, Princeton)... Few Americans had heard even vaguely of earnest, ebullient Jean-Paul Sartre, novelist, playwright, essayist and prophet of the philosophy of life known as 'Existentialism.' But more were likely to become aware of him and his message... Existentialism had called forth more words and more ink than any intellectual movement since Dadaism ushered in Europe's "lost generation" after World War I."

The article also quoted Sartre's partner Simone de Beauvoir who described Sartre as someone who "hates the country. He loathes . . . the swarming life of insects and the pullulation of plants. At most he tolerates the level sea, the unbroken desert sand, or the mineral coldness of Alpine peaks; but he feels at home only in cities. . . . He doesn't like raw vegetables or milk fresh from the cow or oysters on the half shell, but only cooked foods; and he always asks for preserved fruit instead of the natural product. . . ."

The extent of Sartre's popularity was such that he even managed to fill Carnegie Hall where his lecture had been arranged by Charles Henri Ford, the editor of View magazine. William Barrett who wrote the book 'What is Existentialism?" (published the following year) was amongst the audience at the Hall.

William Barrett:

What I remember is that the hall was absolutely jam-packed and that there were quite a few American Surrealists. Sartre was wonderful with his oratorical brio. Of course he was also preceded by the reputation that the press had created for him. but what really fascinated us was the polyvalence of his writing. It was quite unique to find a philosopher of that caliber who was also a novelist - however disappointing - a playwright, a journalist, an essayist... Yes, it was all this that really got us. (JN275-6)

During his time in the U.S., Sartre also spoke at Yale, Harvard, Princeton, Columbia (as well as in Ottawa and Montreal in Canada). At Harvard he ditched his prepared speech and spoke spontaneously on Albert Camus' The Plague which he had read just before leaving Paris. (JN274)

[Note: Mark Stevens and Annalyn Swan incorrectly place Sartre's lecture at Carnegie Hall in 1948 in de Kooning: An American Master (NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 2006). (DK267)]

January 2 - 19, 1946: Robert Motherwell solo exhibition at the Samuel Kootz Gallery in New York. (MR135)
1946: Marcel Duchamp uses Benday dots.

Duchamp utilized Benday dots in the background of a book cover he designed for Breton's book Young Cherry Trees Secured Against Hares, published in 1946.

1946: Mark Rothko begins painting multiforms. (RO232)

Rothko had written to Barnett Newman in the summer of 1945 and mentioned that he was working on "the problem of further concretizing my symbols" adding "Unfortunately one can't think these things out with finality but must endure a series of stumblings toward a clearer issue." (RO232)

Mark Rothko [Pratt Institute lecture 1958]:

No one could paint the figure as it was and feel that he could produce something that could express the world. I refuse to mutilate and had to find another way of expression. I used mythology for a while substituting various creatures who were able to make intense gestures without embarrassment. I began to use morphological forms in order to paint gestures that I could not make people do. But this was unsatisfactory. (RO395)

1946: Barnett Newman meets Clyfford Still. (MH)
1946: Thomas Hess starts working for Art News.

Hess was hired as an associate editor for the magazine. Educated at Yale, he had previously worked at The Museum of Modern Art before serving time in the Air Force. (DK276) In 1949 he would be promoted to managing editor. After meeting de Kooning, he became one of his chief advocates in the press, along with Harold Rosenberg. (DK276)

Mid-1940s: Elaine de Kooning has an abortion.

The abortion was the first of three. Bill (Willem) had to borrow the money for the operation meaning that most of his friends knew about it. (DK239)

1946: Franz Kline paints his first abstract painting.

During 1946 Kline painted The Dancer which he would later refer to as his first abstract painting. (FK178)

January 3, 1946: Collector E.W. Root purchases Mark Rothko's Omens of Gods and Birds.

He also purchased an unidentified Rothko on April 10, 1949 from Betty Parsons for $200. (RO608-9fn48)

January 16, 1946: Arshile Gorky's paintings are destroyed in a fire. (MS303)

The fire was caused by a stove that Gorky had installed the previous month in the building he used as a studio on the Hebbeln's property. The fire brigade was called, but Gorky managed to save only a few items - an old coat (which he said he thought was a portfolio of drawings), a hammer, a screwdriver and a box of charcoal. Two hours later, he rang Agnes and told her. According to Agnes his voice sounded so hollow that it scared her. (MS303) In late January Agnes wrote to Jeanne Reynal that "He [Gorky] says it is all inside him, the painting on his easel, the one he was working on during the fire is still burning in his mind & he only wants to get to work immediately." (MS303)

According to Gorky's biographer, Matthew Spender, "At the time, Mougouch [Agnes] wrote that all the drawings of the past three years had been lost, except for a few in Julien Levy's gallery. This is an exaggeration." (MS304)

From From a High Place: A Life of Arshile Gorky by Matthew Spender:

Gorky brought to Connecticut many drawings from the summer in Virginia to work from, but he did not bring them all. To the lost drawings, one should add about twenty canvases: the heavily worked paintings Mougouch had described as having been endlessly made and remade in David Hare's studio, with the exception of Diary of a Seducer; the final batch of paintings which he had been planning to bring to New York on the Monday; and one or two portraits of herself. Twelve thin paintings like They Will Take My Island survived, having been sent to Levy three weeks before.

Mougouch added to the list: his easel, that easel which was 'like golgotha to me;' his palettes; his books on Ingres and Uccello which used to follow him everywhere. Yet in spite of Gorky's story that he had saved only a box of charcoal etc., one or two objects which she thought had been destroyed mysteriously turned up later in Union Square. The photograph of himself and his mother, for instance. Perhaps some drawings were also saved, such as the studies for The Plow and the Song, to which Gorky returned in in 1947 - unless he replaced them while they were still fresh in his mind, backdating them to the moment when he had first thought of the image, just as he used to do in an earlier phase of his life. (MS304)

Friends came to Gorky's aid, providing him with a place to paint in Manhattan - a "ballroom in the sky" on the 17th floor of a building overlooking Central Park. (Henry Hebbeln was using Gorky's studio at the time.) Agnes wrote to Reynal that Gorky seemed happy and went to work every day carrying a black lunch pail like a "sky miner." Gorky felt shy about using the bathroom facilities in the building so he used the bathroom in the Metropolitan Museum of Art across the street. (MS306) He was having problems related to the "haemorrhoids" that had been diagnosed the previous year and using a toilet could be a painful, and sometimes bloody process.

He completed three works in the three weeks he used the ballroom as a studio: Charred Beloved I and II, and Nude. His "beloved" referred to his destroyed paintings. Nude derived from a drawing he had made for a book Breton produced six months previously. (MS304)

January 22 - February 16, 1946: Solo exhibition of Gordon Onslow-Ford's Mexico paintings at the Nierendorf Gallery In New York.
Cover of exhibition brochure
February 1946: Clyfford Still solo show at Peggy Guggenheim's Art of This Century Gallery. (RO222)

An essay on Still by Mark Rothko appeared in the catalogue for the show. He praised Still's "unprecedented forms and completely personal methods." By the time the show opened, Still was living in Alberta, Canada. (RO222)

February 1946: Charles Egan opens an art gallery at 63 East 57th St. (SG98)

Charles Egan was a high school drop-out with no academic credentials in regard to art but was well-liked amongst the Waldorf Cafeteria artist regulars. He had started out in 1935 as a salesman in the art gallery at Wanamaker's department store before going on to work first at the Ferargil Gallery and then at J.B. Neumann's New Art Circle before opening his own gallery. According to Milton Resnick it was after Egan complained about his job at J.B. Neumann's that the artists who hung out at the Waldorf encouraged him to open his own gallery. (LF258)

Milton Resnick:

He told us he couldn't stand working there. He said, '[Neumann] won't let me talk. He said that I have to dress nice and if someone talks to me I'm supposed to look at my shoes.' And we said 'Why don't you open up your own gallery?' He said, 'I'm broke.' We said, 'Find enough money to rent a place.' At that time rents weren't high. And he found a place four stories up on Fifty-seventh Street. It was a tiny little hole in the wall. He had no storage space, just a closet. He had a little extra square room. That was about all. And the artists fixed it up and painted it. (DK224)

Egan's artist friends who helped to fix up the space included Isamu Noguchi, Giorgio Cavallon, Milton Resnick, Willem de Kooning and Franz Kline. Margo Stewart who worked at the gallery later described it as "a little closet with a telephone and chair, and a plywood desk attached to the wall. And he stored the paintings in the bathroom, in the bathtub." (DK225)

Egan's first exhibition was a show of gouaches by a Swiss artist, Otto Botto, who had arrived in the United States in 1922. Although Botto had already had one-man shows at the Gallery Secession in Paris 1934 and at Contemporary Arts in 1937, the artists at the Waldorf were surprised that Egan had not chosen one of them for his first show. "No one took it [the exhibition] seriously," said Resnick who described Otto's paintings as "watercolors a la Picasso." Charlie defended his choice by saying "You know, you guys, I'd never be able to sell your paintings. I'm broke, and I need to sell." (DK225)

Egan would give Willem de Kooning his first one man show in 1948 and Franz Kline his first solo show in 1950.

End February 1946: Arshile Gorky is diagnosed with cancer. (MS306)

Gorky, still in pain from the "haemorrhoids" he had been diagnosed with the previous year, consulted his old doctor, Harry Weiss, about his problem. Weiss had previously cured Gorky of lead poisoning contracted from grinding his own paint. After a rectal examination Dr. Weiss immediately sent Gorky to Mount Sinai without allowing him to return home for his clothes. Dr. Weiss then told Agnes that he was sure that Gorky had cancer of the rectum. The hospital confirmed the diagnosis. (MS306)

Agnes told him the news, but not the statistics - at the time only 45% of patients admitted for cancer of the rectum survived for as long as five years. Gorky had been passing blood for at least six months prior to his admission into hospital.

March 5, 1946: Winston Churchill launches the Cold War in Missouri.

Churchill made a speech at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri after receiving an honorary degree from the college. In his speech he coined the term "iron curtain." The Soviet Union, which had been an ally during World War II, was now suspected of wanting "the indefinite expansion of their power and doctrines." The Cold War had begun.

Winston Churchill [from the Iron Curtain speech]:

From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic an iron curtain has descended across the Continent. Behind that line lie all the capitals of the ancient states of Central and Eastern Europe. Warsaw, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade, Bucharest and Sofia; all these famous cities and the populations around them lie in what I must call the Soviet sphere, and all are subject, in one form or another, not only to Soviet influence but to a very high and in some cases increasing measure of control from Moscow...

In a great number of countries, far from the Russian frontiers and throughout the world, Communist fifth columns are established and work in complete unity and absolute obedience to the directions they receive from the Communist center. Except in the British Commonwealth and in the United States where Communism is in its infancy, the Communist parties or fifth columns constitute a growing challenge and peril to Christian civilization...

The agreement which was made at Yalta, to which I was a party, was extremely favourable to Soviet Russia, but it was made at a time when no one could say that the German war might not extend all through the summer and autumn of 1945 and when the Japanese war was expected by the best judges to last for a further eighteen months from the end of the German war...

I do not believe that Soviet Russia desires war. What they desire is the fruits of war and the indefinite expansion of their power and doctrines...

March 6, 1946: Arshile Gorky has a colostomy. (MS306)

The doctors at Mount Sinai performed an abdominoperinal resection because of the cancer diagnosis (see above), removing Gorky's rectum, sealing his anus and opening a hole on the side of his stomach to allow him to pass waste. The doctors did not warn Gorky or his wife of the possibility of impotence after the colostomy nor did they mention the depression that many patients suffered afterwards. Instead, they showed him photographs of "happy" people who had survived and told him to be courageous.

Agnes Gorky ["Mougouch"]:

What poet, what painter who has spent the years of his life removing all the fat from his nerves, who has allowed no skin of habit to deaden the slightest sensation, whose one desire is to be vulnerable beyond what he knows of himself, is interested in courage? (MS306)

According to Agnes (Gorky's wife), after the operation Gorky became "a nut about cleanliness. Hands, bottom, everything had to be washed all the time." Going to the bathroom could be a nightmare. Agnes recalled "When he came out of the bathroom, he was as white as a wall, and could hardly stand. If you understand the man, you would realise that he couldn't have gone around with a sack of shit on his stomach under any circumstances." He thought that he smelled and "could never go anywhere far from the bathroom." (BA413)

Gorky's friends did what they could to help. Jeanne Reynal said she was selling some shares and would forward Agnes and Gorky $5,000 as soon as possible. Wolf Schwabacher arranged for an "art fellowship" to be granted to Gorky through the New Land Foundation of which he was president. (The organization's main purpose was to help refugees from Nazi Germany.) (MS)

March/April 1946: The "Paris" issue of View magazine focuses on Existentialism.

Articles included "Existential Theater" by Wallace Fowlie, "The Nationalization of Literature" by Jean-Paul Sartre, an excerpt from "The Stranger" by Albert Camus, "It's Your Funeral" by Jean Genet, "A Soldier Visits Picasso" by Francis Lee, and "Dubuffet" by René Renne and Claude Serbanne.

Earlier in the year the editor of View, Charles Henri Ford, had presented the existential author Jean-Paul Sartre at Carnegie Hall. Ford's sister, the actress Ruth Ford, would appear in a Broadway production of Sartre's play, No Exit, later in the year (see below) with sets designed by Frederick Keisler, the architect who designed Peggy Guggenheim's gallery, Art of This Century.

John Bernard Meyers [from Tracking the Marvelous]:

Examining the material that Charles [Henri] Ford had collected for View Paris, March [/April] 1946, one sensed a new note, a distinct change in the intellectual climate. Names only vaguely heard before were emerging, and several of them were featured in that issue: Sartre, Jean Genet, Albert Camus, Henri Michaux, maurice Blanchard, Georges Bataille, Jean Paulhan and the painter Jean Dubuffet...

"I think," said Charles [Henri Ford] one afternoon, "that Surrealism is on its way out."

"And what is on its way in?" I asked."

"Existentialism, honey, Existentialism."

I was very much amused, therefore, to hear that the ever-popular Greenwich Village chanteuse Stella Brooks was singing a song called 'Existentialism Blues.'" (JB59)

Willem de Kooning:

It [existentialism] was in the air. Without knowing too much about it, we were in touch with the mood. I read the books but if I hadn't I would probably be the same kind of painter. I live in my world. (IS46)

Nicholas Calas:

After the fermented light of the Impressionists, the aromatic pines and apples of Cézanne, the intoxicating colours of the Fauves, the alcohol of dreams of the Surrealists, defeated Paris was reduced to the imageless insomnia of Existentialism. The centre of art moved to New York. With the self-assurance of Periclean Athens, New York mixed its Doric and Ionic elements. American Abstract Expressionism detached automatism from the Surrealists' imagistic painting and, in so doing, liberated abstract art from its obsession with geometric form. (LL166)

March 1946: Jackson Pollock signs a new contract with Peggy Guggenheim.

This time the contract was for two years. Pollock's monthly stipend was raised from $150 to $300, with Guggenheim deducting $50 a month to pay off the loan she had given to Lee and Jackson for the purchase of their property in The Springs. In exchange Pollock agreed to give Guggenheim all of his output less one painting. (JP157) During 1946 Pollock also designed the dust jacket for Peggy Guggenheim's autobiography, Out of This Century. (PP321)

April 2 - 20, 1946: Jackson Pollock's third solo exhibition at Peggy Guggenheim's Art of This Century.

The exhibition consisted of eleven oil paintings and eight temperas, including Water Figure, Troubled Queen, Moon Vessel, and a painting titled Once Upon a Time. Pollock and his new wife, Lee Krasner, visited New York for two weeks when it opened, staying at their old apartment at 46 East Eighth Street. James Brooks, an artist who had worked on the Federal Art Project during the 1930s was now living in the front part of the apartment. Jackson's brother Jay lived in the other half. (JP164)

Critical response was mixed. Ben Wolf reviewed the show for Art Digest: "When one regards the movement and color ranges of Water Figure one feels a genuine wrench upon viewing the dissipated composition of Troubled Queen that leans too heavily on its color and pigmentation. Moon Vessel charms with its considerated [sic] surfaces and shows just what is wrong with the short-stopped Once Upon a Time. (PK55)

An anonymous reviewer in Art News noted that prices for the paintings ranged from $100 to $850 and extolled Pollock "as one of the most influential young American abstractionists" who "has reinforced his position in a recent exhibit at Art of This Century." The reviewer acknowledged that although Pollock "still uses an automatic technique... he has also developed his newer 'simplified' manner" in which "larger, more representational shapes are placed against flat, monochrome backgrounds." (PK55)

Clement Greenberg found the work disappointing but referred to the artist himself as "the most original contemporary easel-painter under forty." (PK55)

April 9 - May 4, 1946: Arshile Gorky exhibition at the Julien Levy Gallery. (MA310)
April 22 - May 4, 1946: Exhibition of Mark Rothko's watercolours at the Mortimer Brandt Gallery. (RO602fn35)

Betty Parsons, who was working for Brandt, organized the exhibit. (RO232) She would later open her own gallery and become Rothko's dealer.

In a letter to Louis and Annette Kaufman dated May 17, 1946, Rothko referred to the exhibition as "my most successful show" and that "one person invested more than $1,000 in the stuff. So maybe there is hope." The money enabled him to quit teaching at Center Academy. (RO250)

The show consisted of 18 works: Archaic Idol (loaned by Kenneth MacPherson), Olympian Plan (loaned by Bill Davis), Geologic Reverie, Gethsemane, Ancestral Imprint, Vessels of Magic, Implements of Magic, Omen, Tentacles of Memory, Omen of the Bird, Incantation and Immolation (all ten sold for a total of $1,825 although some not until 1947), Entombment, Prehistoric Memory and Votive Mood (all sold). Heraldic Dream ($100), Altar of Orpheus ($75) and Personages ($100) were also sold during this period, bringing Rothko's total to $2,100 (of which the gallery would have received about a third). (RO608n46)

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art purchased Tentacles of Memory - the first purchase of a Rothko by a museum. The following year the Whitney and Brooklyn Museums purchased two other paintings that had been in the exhibition - Entombment 1 and Vessels of Magic. (RO252)

April 16 - May 4, 1946: Arshile Gorky's second solo exhibition at the Julien Levy Gallery. (MS308)

The show ran for only three weeks and consisted of eleven paintings when it opened. A twelfth painting, Diary of a Seducer, was added after the opening. Included were Charred Beloved I, Charred Beloved II, Nude (all three had been completed in the "ballroom in the sky" earlier in the year) plus works from the previous year including 3 whose short titles were thought up by Julien Levy while Gorky was in the hospital - Hugging (aka Good Hope Road II ), Impatience and The Unattainable. (MS308)

Clement Greenberg saw the show before Diary of a Seducer was added and reviewed it for the May 4, 1946 issue of The Nation, referring to the works (painted in the lighter style of They Will Take My Island which Greenberg had praised the previous year) as "tinted drawings" although this did not make them less "important." Greenberg added, "Gorky's art does not yet constitute an eruption into the mainstream of contemporary painting, as I think Jackson Pollock's does," and that Gorky's "self-confidence fails to extend to invention." (MS309)

By the end of the year, Levy managed to sell four paintings by Gorky: Good Hope Road ($500), Impatience ($350), Charred Beloved I ($720) and Delicate Game ($275). He would sell only one further work by Gorky during the artist's lifetime. (MS309)

[Note: In From a High Place: A Life of Arshile Gorky Matthew Spender indicates that the exhibition opened on April 16th. Julien Levy dates the exhibition as April 9 - May 4, 1946 in Memoir of an Art Gallery.]

May 1946: André Breton arrives in Paris.

Having finished his cultural tour of Haiti and the French West Indies (arranged through the French Embassy), Breton finally arrived at his studio apartment at 42 rue Fontaine. He and other members of his Surrealist group would meet regularly (six or seven days a week) at a cafe in the Place Blanche at 6:00 pm. (SS387/401)

Spring 1946: Willem de Kooning paints a backdrop.

Marie Marchowsky commissioned de Kooning to paint a backdrop for her for a dance performance named Labyrinth at the New York Times Hall. Marchowsky was a friend of of the de Koonings and had previously commissioned Elaine to do a portrait in 1945 for $50. She gave Bill the same amount for his backdrop which measured seventeen by twenty feet and was based on de Kooning's painting Judgement Day. Milton Resnick assisted de Kooning, recalling "We had one day to do it and one night. I painted and Bill mixed the colors. He had made a sketch with chalk, and then he had to make the colors. He had to cook fish glue. You had to melt it with water and cook it and then add those cheap hardware pigments to it and get it bright." Three weeks later Marchowsky gave de Kooning a birthday party. He arrived wearing his usual ragged, paint splattered clothes. Joseph Solman recalled, "Bill looked like a guy you'd be sorry for. We had drinks and congratulated him because she had used him for that ballet. But he sat in a corner like a guy you'd give a handout to." (DK227)

April/May 146: Walter Lippman extols America as the center of Western civilization.

At a time when many art writers were referring to a new internationalism in art, the first issue (May/April 1946) of the magazine Les études américaines appeared in France. It included an article by Walter Lippman ("La destinée américaine") which was overtly patriotic. The new internationalism was actually Americanism.

Walter Lippman:

Fate has willed it that America is from now on to be at the center of Western civilization rather than on the periphery... The American idea is based on a certain image of man and his place in the Universe... his faith in a law above all particular laws. This tradition has come down to Americans and to all citizens of the West from the Mediterranean world of the ancient Greeks, Jews, and Romans. The Atlantic is now the Mediterranean of this culture and faith. This is no accident... The prospect before us is grand: the schism between east and west that began in the Middle Ages between the fifth and eleventh century of our era is about to come to an end. (SG128/SG233 fn97)

April 13, 1946: Fernand Léger extols American art in Lettres françaises.

During an interview with Léon Degand, Léger said that the Americans were on their way toward artistic greatness.

Fernand Léger [from Léon Degand, "Le retour d'un grand peintre, F. Léger," Lettres françaises (April 13, 1946), p. 1]:

Does American painting exist? Yes, and it is developing rapidly. Young painters are throwing themselves into their work with such intensity that it is impossible that a nation which has given itself the best professors and the finest art collections in the world will not one day achieve an original style of its own... I am convinced that the Americans are on the way toward a period of greatness in art. The first signs are already here. (SG127)

April 24, 1946: George Waldemar calls on French art to recover its original virtues.

George Waldemar [from Le Littéraire (Figaro), April 24, 1946, p. 4]

If the world wants erector sets, monsters, or colossi, it does not need us. The mission of French art is to defend the individual rights of man, his dignity, his charm, and his value, against the enemy forces: the 'made in U.S.A.' spirit and the herd spirit of the Slavic East. French art can carry out this mission only if it returns to concrete realities and recovers its original virtues: a love of things and of well crafted work, a spirit of observation, and a critical spirit. (SG128)

May 1946: Franz Kline's wife is admitted to a mental hospital.

Elizabeth became a patient at the Central Islip State Hospital for six months. Her mental problems would reoccur, requiring several hospitalizations during the 40s and 50s before being released for the last time in 1960. She would outlive Kline, dying in 1984. (FK178)

May 16 - June 1, 1946: "Building a Modern Collection" exhibition at the Samuel Kootz Gallery.
May 27, 1946: Philip Guston is featured in Life magazine.

Life magazine, May 27, 1946

The article was about Guston winning the Carnegie award and included a photograph of Guston in front of his most recent painting (which he subsequently destroyed). Titled "Philip Guston: Carnegie Winner's Art Is Abstract and Symbolic," the article noted Guston's rapid rise to fame and the (allegedly) high prices his work was commanding. (DA74)

The painting which won the award was Guston's Sentimental Moment which he told the Life journalist he no longer liked - it was was "too literal." On the last page of the article If This Be Not I (1945) was reproduced. (MM8)

June 1946: "Modern Painting for A Country Estate: Important Paintings for Spacious Living" at the Samuel Kootz gallery. (SG122)
June 1946: Peggy Guggenheim donates Mark Rothko's Slow Swirl at the Edge of the Sea to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. (RO215)
c. June 1946: Mark Rothko leaves his part-time teaching job at the Center Academy.
Summer 1946: Harold Rosenberg moves to the Springs.

Harold and May Rosenberg left their apartment in New York (on East 10th Street) and moved into a place on Neck Path around the corner from Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner. (JP166)

Summer 1946: Wolfgang Paalen stays with Robert Motherwell.

Paalen and his companion Luchita Hurtado stayed three months in Motherwell's house Quonset in East Hampton in Long Island. While there they held a private reading of Paalen's play The Beam of the Balance with Motherwell and friends.

Summer 1946: Mark Rothko meets Robert Motherwell.

Rothko met Motherwell in East Hampton where Rothko was spending the summer.

Mark Rothko [from a letter to Barnett Newman, August 1946]:

... I hope you have seen my missiles to Adolph [Gottlieb] in which I have described the local scene. If you recall that we chose our present location to avoid the intrigues of the winter, rest assured that there is plenty here too! I guess our clamor is no longer escapable.

All in all I find Bob [Robert Motherwell] a gracious and interesting guy and [William] Baziotes a swell and vivid person. [Jackson] Pollock is a self contained & sustained advertizing concern and Harold Rosenberg has one of the best brains that you are likely to encounter, full of wit, humaneness and a genius for getting things impreccably expressed. But I doubt if he will be of much use to us. [Wolfgang] Paalen had been around here too, also Strop, etc, pale stuff, both! Such is the panorama.

... Wrote to Betty [Parsons] and sent her the commission on the Bertha Schaeffer sale, and also reminded her about the San Francisco show which opened on August 13 - September 8th... (Got a letter from [James Johnson] Sweeney, who wants to come to see my recent work. (Vos is dos?)... (LA/original grammar retained)

Summer 1946: Jackson Pollock converts a barn into a studio and paints Shimmering Substance. (JP167)

Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner had a series of New York visitors during their first summer in the Springs, including various relatives, Clement Greenberg, John Bernard Myers and their former 8th Street neighbour Ed Strautin. (JP167)

Pollock also had the barn in the backyard (where it was blocking the view of Accabonac Creek) moved to the side of the property during the summer and began using it as his studio.

Lee Krasner:

When the barn was moved, he [Jackson Pollock] wanted the window high, so as not to be able to look out. He didn't want to be disturbed by the scene around him. He wanted his studio totally closed off, I remember that very definitely. The barn was altered when it was moved to the side of the house from directly behind the house where it blocked our view. Where the window should be placed was really the only alteration. A new studio window was added. I remember asking him if whether it wouldn't be a good idea to place another window someplace else as well as where he said. He said, 'No, no, I don't want to be disturbed by the outside view when I'm working. (BP)

The renovations to the barn took up most of the summer. At the end of the summer Jackson moved into the barn to prepare for his fourth show at Art of This Century. Prior to painting in the barn, he had started painting The Key (Accabonac Series, 1946) on a canvas attached to a curtain stretcher on the bedroom floor. (PP321) He produced about fifteen new works in the barn for his Accabonac Series and Sounds in the Grass Series - including Shimmering Substance which is considered a key work because it is a fully abstract "allover" painting.

Lee Krasner:

He (Jackson Pollock) always slept very late. Drinking or not, he never got up in the morning... While he had his breakfast I had my lunch... He would sit over that damn cup of coffee for two hours. By that time it was afternoon. He'd get off and work until it was dark. There were no lights in his studio. When the days were short he could only work for a few hours, but what he managed to do in those few hours was incredible. (PP321)

July 1946: Art News reports on the picture boom.

An editorial in the magazine proclaimed, "Going into the 4th year of the picture boom, the still increasing contingent of the new as well as the old collectors are virtually yanking them off the walls of the galleries. Even the work of living Americans is beginning to grow as scarce as the long shut-off supply of the modern French and the ever diminishing stock of old masters." (SG115)

Early August 1946: Arshile Gorky and family travel to Crooked Run Farm in Virginia.

Gorky was still recuperating from his operation and needed to rest. Agnes' parents were vacationing in Canada leaving their farm free for her and Gorky who had previously been house hunting for a place in the countryside. Frederick Keisler drove them to Crooked Run Farm, with Gorky sitting on an air cushion during the trip because of the discomfort he was still experiencing after the operation. (MS311).

After about a month, the Magruders (Agnes' parents) returned from Canada. Around the same time, Kay (Sage) Tanguy rang from Connecticut to tell the Gorkys about a house for sale near them at Woodbury Connecticut. Kay also gave the latest news of André Breton in France. Referring to Breton as a "wild lion in Paris" he was apparently "surrounded by 50 people every day & night in the Deux Magots or whatever is the name of the 'home restaurant" and was forced "to pin a note on his door saying [he] can be seen by appointment only." She added that Matta disappeared after a few days in [a] huff that he wasn't getting enough acclaim - "Well anyway hooray for him - André." (MS313)

Jeanne Reynal wrote to Agnes from California, passing on some gossip she had heard about Breton and Sartre. Sartre apparently hated the way Breton shook his hand in public, calling him "cher ami" but in print declaring that Surrealism should not be confused with the "grisaille" of Existentialism. Jeanne added, "They are bound to be enemies... Good for André." (MS313)

Agnes wrote to Breton saying that she had heard that he was surrounded by enthusiastic young people and that her and Gorky longed to go to Paris to join his circle. They needed a small house near Paris. Breton replied about a month later encouraging them to come, mentioning that he and Marcel Duchamp were organizing a Surrealism exhibition for 1947 and he wanted Gorky to participate. (MS314)

Gorky produced numerous drawings during the summer in Virginia (including studies for Agony (1947)), but no paintings. (MS316) He sent fifty drawings to his dealer, Julien Levy, in October. (MS318)

August 16 - September 8, 1946: Mark Rothko's solo exhibition at the San Francisco Museum of Art.

The title of the exhibition was "Oils and Watercolors by Mark Rothko." It consisted of nineteen oil paintings and ten watercolours, including Intimations of Chaos. (RO605n5)

On September 20, 1946 Clyfford Still, who by then was living in San Francisco, wrote to Betty Parsons, "... Mark Rothko's show went over in the strongest way out here. It was without question the best show I have ever seen in the gallery for years and it commanded the highest respect from those out here who know good work when they see it." (LA/RO222)

[Note: The The San Francisco Museum of Art was the name of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art prior to 1975 when the word "modern" was added.]

Autumn 1946: Clyfford Still begins teaching at the California School of Fine Arts in San Francisco.

He would teach there for four years. (RO222)

c. October 1946: Mark Rothko visits San Francisco and Portland during a trip to the west coast.

Mark Rothko, Clyfford Still and Douglas MacAgy, San Francisco, October 1946
(Photographer unknown)

In Portland he introduced Mell for the first time to his family. (LA/RO265)

September 1946: Betty Parsons Gallery opens at 15 East 57th Street. (MH)

Parsons opened her own gallery in Mortimer Brandt's old space. Barnett Newman, assisted by Tony Smith, organized the debut exhibition - "Northwest Coast Indian Painting" which took place September 30 - October 19, 1946. (SG119)

Newman wrote text for the catalogue - and continued to contribute text to Parsons' catalogues through the next year, including the solo exhibitions of Herbert Ferber and Theodoros Stamos. (MH) In his essay included in the catalogue for the Northwest Coast Indians show, he drew an analogy between "the dominant aesthetic tradition" of the Indians which "was abstract" and the work of modern American abstract artists" who were "working with the pure plastic language we call abstract" and were "infusing" their art "with intellectual and emotional content... without any imitation of primitive symbols..." (RO250)

Barnett Newman [from the Northwest Coast Indian Painting exhibition catalogue]:

It is becoming more and more apparent that to understand modern art, one must have an appreciation of the primitive arts, for just as modern art stands as an island of revolt in the stream of western European aesthetics, the many primitive art traditions stand apart as authentic aesthetic accomplishments that flourished without benefit of European History. (SG120)

In addition to Newman, Parsons would also represent Mark Rothko, Clyfford Still and Jackson Pollock. She would refer to the four artists as her "Four horsemen of the Apocalypse." (RO231-2)

September 1, 1946: Edward Alden Jewell on international art vs. universal art in The New York Times.

In an article titled "Art American?" published in the September 1, 1946 issue of The New York Times, Jewell wrote that "international" art was flawed as it depended on foreign influences. The term itself had political connotations which should be avoided by critics. "Universal" art however was rooted in an individual's experience and would have a profound appeal for individuals anywhere. American art, according to Jewell was "universal." (SG119)

September 10 - December 8, 1946: "Fourteen Americans" exhibition takes place at The Museum of Modern Art.

Included Robert Motherwell. (SR)

Late Autumn 1946: The American Legion commissions Franz Kline mural.

Kline was commissioned by the American Legion Post 314 in Lehighton to paint a panorama of the town on a wall behind the bar in the Legion's assembly room, paying him $600, with $400 paid in advance. He worked on the picture in December basing it on sketches and an earlier painting. The topography of the town as portrayed in the painting differed considerably from the real topography of the town. (FK61/178)

The fourteen foot mural was the largest painting Kline had painted so far, being 3 1/2 inches higher and 10 inches wider than the El Chico bullring painting from the previous year. (FK168fn14)

October 1 - 15, 1946: Mark Rothko exhibition at the Santa Barbara Museum.

The exhibition consisted of all the watercolours from the August/September exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco, plus eleven of the oil paintings included in the earlier exhibit. (RO605fn5)

November 1946: Wolfgang Paalen one man show in the Nierendorf Gallery, New York.
Pre-November 1946: Willem de Kooning rents a studio.

The studio was located at a former storefront at 85 Fourth Avenue between Tenth and Eleventh Streets. The rent was £35 month but within a year Jack Tworkov rented unused space in the back and split the rent with de Kooning.

From De Kooning: An American Master by Mark Stevens and Annalyn Swan:

De Kooning's life in New York changed once he began working in his new studio. His home was no longer with Elaine on Carmine Street; his home was always where his easel was. He began to spend more and more time alone on Fourth Avenue, though he often returned to the apartment at night. With Elaine in perpetual motion, going from parties to concerts to dance programs, what increasingly gave de Kooning emotional support was not his marriage but the community of artists around him. Not only did he regularly see his friends at the Waldorf, but he drew closer to the many artists who lived near the new studio. In one building at 52 East Ninth Street, for example, were John Ferren and his wife, Rae, also a painter. Below them were Conrad Marca-Relli and his wife, and above them was another Village regular, Franz Kline. Across the street were Milton Resnick and Hans Hofmann. (DK229)

November 1946: Willem de Kooning writes to his father.

De Kooning had not seen his father for more than two decades. In the letter he tells his father, "I have an irresistible longing to see you again. There's one thing I want to say about myself, and that is that I'm still in love with the art of painting and that's the reason I have been down-and-out most of the time and so it wasn't that easy to come to Holland."

Willem de Kooning's letter to his father:

Dear Father,

It's been more than twenty years since we saw each other. That's a long time. When the war was over I started on a letter to you and up to now it hasn't been possible for me to put it in the mail. There were ideas in it that looked hopeless. I was trying to explain my whole life to you, but when I'd finished it I had the feeling I wasn't such a bad guy after all. Therefore I thought this evening, "you have to write to your father."

And so I won't try to hide behind sentimental ideas. I have an irresistible longing to see you again. There's one thing I want to say about myself, and that is that I'm still in love with the art of painting and that's the reason I have been down-and-out most of the time and so it wasn't that easy to come to Holland. But I've never done anything irregular, I've led a straight life. I want to let you know that you've always been with me. It is impossible for me to imagine you grown older. I am gray now. I can only remember you "as you were" in the small office. I can only remember you when you were alone. I say "je" because "u" is so far way. I will try to come to Holland next year and maybe you will be able to find me an old loft to paint in. Ha... Ha. Really, father, the art of painting is very beautiful. I can remember you once telling me that when you were a young man you dreamt of having a great big business, but when you were older you wanted to be content with a small business, neat and proper. And with painting it is the same. If I will ever be a great painter is something for other people to find out. I am content to just be a painter. Now I am happily married to a beautiful woman and she send you a big kiss.

I'm very glad I've written you and in my mind I embrace you.

Your loving son, Willem.

[Elaine left an imprint of her lipsticked lips on the letter, which de Kooning explained, "This is the kiss Elaine sends and she says her lips are larger in reality." Two photographs were also enclosed - one of Bill and one of Elaine.] (DK234)

Although it is unknown what de Kooning's father said in return, his father's later letters encouraged de Kooning to abandon art for a more lucrative job. (DK235)

De Kooning would not write to his father again until February 10, 1948 - his father's birthday. In that letter, de Kooning wrote again of his difficulties as a painter: "...when you are a painter, it is really outrageous. Yet, I blame no one. In the museums you can get it for free why buy it... It looks as if I'm never going to be able to accomplish anything but you musn't think that. Often I feel I can never prove myself. That is really the reason I never write. Well, I'm saying 'good night.' It is late. And while I am going to bed I will think of the Zaagmolenstraat." (DK235)

November 20, 1946: The Gorkys return to New York from Virginia. (MS320)

Arshile Gorky had been recuperating from his colostomy at Crooked Run Farm in Virginia since August. Several days before leaving the farm to return to Manhattan, Gorky wrote a letter to his sister Vartoosh, telling her that "Next spring we have the intention of going to Paris france. Our friend the great poet Andre Breton, who wrote such good things about me, wants us to go there. This summer I made many drawings, 293 of them, I notice, I have never been able to draw so much and they are very beautiful." (MS319/original grammar retained)

December 1946: Fortune magazine publishes an article on the atomic explosion at Bikini, featuring two abstract paintings by Ralston Crawford. (SG96)
November 26 - December 21, 1946: Jean Paul Sartre's No Exit on Broadway.

The play was performed in an English translation by Paul Bowles at the Biltmore Theater. John Huston directed. Frederick Kiesler, who had designed Peggy Guggenheim's Art of This Century gallery, designed the sets and lighting. The cast included Ruth Ford, the sister of Charles Henri Ford, the editor of View magazine.

November - December 1946: "International Exhibition of Modern Art" in Paris.

The exhibition, which took place at the Musée d'Art Moderne, included work by Adolph Gottlieb.

c. December 1946: Barnett Newman joins the Betty Parsons Gallery.

One of his works was included in Parsons' Christmas show - the first display of Newman's art since 1940 when he exhibited at the Art Teachers Association show.

Newman was often at the gallery on Saturday afternoons, giving impromptu talks to visitors. Pollock was sometimes there, often winding him up: "Barney, you know what I think? I think you're a horse's ass." (JP176)

December 10, 1946 - January 16, 1947: "Annual Exhibition of Contemporary American Painting" (the "Whitney Annual") takes place at the Whitney Museum.

It was the first Whitney Annual to feature a work by Jackson Pollock: Two (1943-45). (PP321) The exhibition also included work by Arshile Gorky Adolph Gottlieb, Philip Guston, Robert Motherwell, Mark Rothko, Theodore Stamos, Bradley Walker Tomlin, Stuart Davis, John Sloan and Stanley William Hayter. (JF84-85)

c. December 1946: Arshile Gorky's wife, Agnes, begins Jungian psychotherapy.

Agnes' psychoanalyst, Dr. M. Esther Harding, was recommended to her by her great-aunt. Dr. Harding told Agnes to write down her dreams. Agnes started a diary. (MS322)

End 1946: Barnett Newman rents a studio at 114 Fourth Avenue, near Union Square. (MH)

to 1947

Abstract Expressionism

Ab Ex Contents

Ab Ex Essays