Abstract Expressionism

Ab Ex Contents

Ab Ex Essays


Abstract Expressionism 1947

by Gary Comenas (2009, Updated 2016)
1947: Gordon Onslow Ford moves to the Bay Area.

Ford was joined by Wolfgang Paalen the following year (from Mexico). Ford, Paalen and another artist Lee Mullican lived together in Mill Valley for a few months exploring Paalen's "Dynaton" concepts which he had been working on in Mexico (hence the name of the magazine he edited there being called Dyn). In 1950 the three artists exhibited together at Stanford University and in 1951 the San Francisco Museum of Art hosted an exhibition titled "Dynaton A New Vision." (OE198/SS416)

[Note: The Lee Mullican group exhibitions list for the Sullivan Goss Gallery indicates that both the Stanford and the San Francisco exhibitions took place in 1951. The Wolfgang Paalen chronology at Frey Norris doesn't mention the Stanford exhibition and indicates that San Francisco show took place in 1950.]

From "California Artists and Surrealism" by Susan Anderson in On the Edge of America: California Modernist Art, 1900-1950

According to the group [Ford, Paalen and Mullican], the Dynaton (from a Greek word meaning "the possible") was a transformative art, a fusion of the artists' interests in pre-Columbian and native American cultures, shamanism, non-Western philosophies such as Zen Buddhism, the new physics (particularly wave-particle theory), and extraterrestrial life, all in an essentially meditative framework. The artists of the Dynaton espoused the principles of European surrealism—automatism and the primacy of the unconscious—and the vital quiet in California nature as their points of departure.

Nature was essential to the Dynaton. Paalen poetically referred to the work of each artist in terms of the four elements. "For Gordon the element is water and all it hides and bares, the moon, the neckline of the figurehead and the breath in the shell.... Air is the element for Lee, and all it carries, pollen, feathers, the dreams of birds and spikes of stars and the holy nest of winds ... the ray of sun on the straw." Paalen referred to himself as "the fire, the places where the devil cooks his ware." (OE198)

1947: Max Ernst and Dorothea Tanning move to Sedona, Arizona.

Ernst and Tanning built a homestead in Arizona which initially had no water or electricity. They lived there until 1952 when Ernst returned to France with Tanning. (SS415)

1947: Philip Guston and family return to Woodstock from St. Louis.

Guston was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship and returned to to live in Woodstock. According to Guston's biographer, Dore Ashton, Guston "after two academic years in St. Louis" had what he referred to "at various times" as "a kind of breakdown." (DA72)

Musa Mayer [Philip Guston's daughter]:

In 1947, my father won a Guggenheim fellowship and was able to leave Washington University (in St. Louis) and return to Woodstock. At first we lived on the side of of Overlook Mountain in Byrdcliffe, a former artist's colony of houses and studios, complete with theater and unused dining hall... Later we moved down to the rival settlement on the Maverick Road, built by a dissenting group of artists who established a community of their own... On the Maverick, you stoked your own wood stove, pumped your own water, padded to the outhouse in the moonlight. Taking a shower meant remembering to fill a pail with water and set it out so the sun could warm it. (MM38)

Among the visitors to Woodstock were Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Barnett Newman, Theodoros Stamos, and Adolph Gottlieb. (DA79) The painter Bradley Walker Tomlin lived down the road from Guston. The writer Robert Phelps and his artist wife, Rosemary Beck also lived in the area and would often go to movies with Guston or have dinner at his home. Phelps recalled that " We knew just about every movie house in the Hudson Valley," and that they often talked about Piero, Watteau ("those powder blues!") and about the American comic strips. (DA79/81)

Dore Ashton:

While Woodstock was a three-hour drive from New York City in those days, it was a journey that many artists undertook... both Pollock and de Kooning visited Guston there. The news from New York City in 1947 was encouraging. Critics were beginning to focus on a small band of artists—many of whom Guston had known on the Project—as an authentic vanguard, and there were new galleries devoted to contemporary work. So eminent a critic as Clement Greenberg discerned a shift of interest among painters, away from Cubist principles toward "symbological or metaphysical content." Although Greenberg disapproved, he recognized that this symbolism served to stimulate ambitious and serious painting, allowing artists to lay aside their differences of ideology... The strong reverberation of this mood hit Guston on his occasional visits to Peggy Guggenheim's gallery in New York, where he saw many artists. (DA78)

1947: The Museum of Non-Objective Painting moves from 24 East 54th Street to 1071 Fifth Avenue. (PP320)
January 6 - 25, 1947: Adolph Gottlieb exhibition at the Samuel Kootz Gallery.

Both Hans Hofmann and Adolph Gottlieb signed with Kootz in 1945. Baziotes and Motherwell had signed with him after the closure of the Art of This Century gallery. (AG45)

Victor Wolfson [from the exhibition catalogue]:

Gottlieb does not work in the popular mode of the day, the so-called International Style... The fragments which he has unearthed in his excavations of our common underworld - an underworld which unites Mayan, Oceanic, Paleolithic and Atomic man... (SG148)

Elaine de Kooning later recalled that Gottlieb, along with Rothko and Barnett Newman "revered" Milton Avery, saying "They were all protégées of Milton Avery's, the three of them. They all adored Milton Avery. Oh, I don't know if they adored him, but they revered him." (SE)

Elaine de Kooning:

Of the three [Gottlieb, Rothko and Newman] in terms of professionalism, Gottlieb was the most professional always. He never took unto himself this role of, "I have the key to the absolute," a term that Barney Newman was very fond of invoking. In a sense, it was pretentious, raving about oneself instead of leaving that to someone else. (SE)

January 14 - February 1, 1947: Jackson Pollock's fourth solo exhibition at Peggy Guggenheim's Art of This Century.

The show consisted of sixteen paintings, including Peggy Guggenheim's Mural and the Accabonac Creek Series and the Sounds in the Grass Series. (PP321-2)

Clement Greenberg [The Nation, February 1947]:

Jackson Pollock's fourth one man-man show in so many years at Art of This Century is his best since his first one and signals what may be a major step in his development... Pollock points a way beyond the easel, beyond the mobile, framed picture, to the mural, perhaps - or perhaps not. I cannot tell. (JP169)

January 20 - February 8, 1947: Barnett Newman curates "The Ideographic Picture" exhibition at Betty Parsons.

The exhibition consisted of work by eight Parson artists, including Barnett Newman who also contributed text to the exhibition catalogue. (MH)

Barnett Newman [from the exhibition catalogue]:

... there has arisen during the war years a new force in American painting that is the modern counterpart of the primitive art impulse... here is a group of artists who are not abstract painters, although working in what is known as the abstract style. (SG148)

Works included Hans Hofmann: The Fury, I and II; Barnett Newman: Gea, Euclidian Abyss; Ad Reinhardt: Dark Symbol, Cosmic Sign; Mark Rothko: Tiresias, Vernal Memo; Theodore Stamos: The Sacrifice, Imprint; Clyfford Still: Quicksilver, Figure. (SG237n170)

January 27 - February 15, 1947: Picasso's first post-war exhibition in the U.S. takes place at the Samuel M. Kootz Gallery.

Kootz was for a time Picasso's exclusive dealer (see spring 1948) in the U.S.

February 1947: Joan Miró arrives in the United States.

Miró stayed eight months. (HH540/SS403) He had come to the U.S. to paint a 7 by 32 foot mural commissioned for the Terrace Plaza Hotel in Cincinnati. Carl Holty loaned him a studio to work in. Soby arranged for the completed mural to be exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in October prior to its installation in the hotel's dining room. (SS403) He stayed eight months.

February 15, 1947: "Bloodflames 1947" exhibition opens at the Hugo Gallery. (MS323)

Nicolas Calas organized the exhibition at the Hugo Gallery (located at 26 East Fifty-fifth Street). Matta had originally wanted the show to be called "X-centric Art" (to the displeasure of Arshile Gorky - whose work Nude, painted in the "ballroom in the sky" the previous year, was included.) In addition to Gorky the show included work by Matta, Hare, Noguchi, Lam, Kamrowski, Noguchi, Helen Philiips, Jeanne Reynal. Frederic Keisler designed the setting for the show. (IS99/SS402)

February 18, 1947: Arshile Gorky solo show at the Julien Levy Gallery opens. (MS322)

The exhibition consisted of Gorky's drawings. A review in the February 18, 1947 issue of The New York Times noted that "Color drawings by Arshile Gorky, at Julien Levy's are rather slight and are non-objective. There is evidence of command of line but to what purpose is considerably less clear." (MS323)

[Note: The exact dates for this exhibition are unclear. Gorky biographer Matthew Spender said that it opened on February 18 and ran "for little more than a week," referring to it as Gorky's "annual show at the Julien Levy Gallery." (MS322) In the list of exhibitions at the gallery published in Julien Levy's autobiography, the only exhibition fitting this description is "Gorky, Drawings" with the dates March 1 - March 8, 1947. (MA311) Yet the New York Times review was apparently published on February 18.]

Although the exhibition consisted solely of drawings, Gorky managed to finish about twenty-five paintings in the first ten months of 1947, according to Matthew Spender.

Matthew Spender [from From a High Place: A Life of Arshile Gorky]:

During the first ten months of 1947, Gorky completed roughly twenty-five major paintings. In the eight months before this, he had hardly painted at all, and in the eight months following, he completed only half a dozen canvases... Some early versions of The Plow and the Song (1947) had been destroyed in the studio fire. From a High Place was originally conceived in 1944. All the works of this final period have a retrospective feel to them, just as the title From a High Place indicates detachment and retreat... (MS324)

March 1947: Mark Rothko's first solo exhibition at Betty Parsons Gallery. (RO232)

Included Verdant Memory, Geologic Memory and Phalanx of the Mind. (Verdant Memory is probably the same painting as Vernal Memory) and Omens of Gods and Birds. (RO605n6/RO252) Omens and Birds had been sold to the collector E.W. Root the previous year for $400 (on January 3, 1946). ((RO608-9n48/RO252) Prices were generally in the $300 - $500 range. (RO299)

March 12, 1947: The "Truman Doctrine" speech furthers the Cold War.

President Harry Truman [from the Truman Doctrine speech]:

The very existence of the Greek state is today threatened by the terrorist activities of several thousand armed men, led by Communists, who defy the government's authority at a number of points, particularly along the northern boundaries. A Commission appointed by the United Nations security Council is at present investigating disturbed conditions in northern Greece and alleged border violations along the frontier between Greece on the one hand and Albania, Bulgaria, and Yugoslavia on the other.

Meanwhile, the Greek Government is unable to cope with the situation. The Greek army is small and poorly equipped. It needs supplies and equipment if it is to restore the authority of the government throughout Greek territory. Greece must have assistance if it is to become a self-supporting and self-respecting democracy.

The United States must supply that assistance. We have already extended to Greece certain types of relief and economic aid but these are inadequate.

There is no other country to which democratic Greece can turn.

Serge Guilbaut [from How New York Stole the Idea of Modern Art]:

Oddly enough, the president's image in the eyes of the liberals regained some of its lost luster when he showed himself to be firm in the face of a danger which... was largely fabricated. The whole pseudo-crisis was an admirable application of Assistant Secretary Clayton's recommendation: 'The U.S. will not take world leadership effectively unless the people of the U.S. are shocked into doing so.' In the same vein, Senator Vandenberg advised the president during one meeting that it would be necessary to 'scare the hell out of the country' to get the public to accept his program. (SG141)

March 18 - April 5, 1947: Max Ernst exhibition at the Julien Levy Gallery. (MA311)
March 21, 1947: Truman announces the Employee Loyalty Program "intended to keep Communists out of federal jobs." (SG143)
March - April 1947: "Introduction a la peinture moderne americaine" exhibition at the Galerie Maeght, Paris.

Samuel Kootz helped with the organization of the exhibition. Artists included Robert Motherwell, Romare Bearden, William Baziotes, Byron Browne, Adolph Gottlieb and Carl Holty. Harold Rosenberg wrote an essay for the catalogue which was also published in the first (and only) issue of Possibilities magazine. (SS392)

Harold Rosenberg [from the exhibition catalogue]:

Attached neither to a community nor to one another, these painters experience a unique loneliness... From the four corners of their vast land they have come to plunge themselves into the anonymity of New York, annihilation of their past being not the least compelling project of these aesthetic Legionaires... (SG159)

The characterization of the artists as lonely annihilators of their past in the midst of the anonymity of New York made them sound like existential heroes. The fact that they came from America was almost irrelevant as, according to Rosenberg, the "international idiom of twentieth century painting" belonged to "no one country," presumably including France.

Harold Rosenberg [from the exhibition catalogue]:

On the western shore of the Atlantic, then, these men have sought out, made their own, and applied to the needs of their special passions the international idiom of twentieth century painting - an idiom that belongs to no one country... but in fact achieves much of its energy, inventiveness and glory in negating what is local and folkloristic through assimilating all national vestiges into a transcendental world-style. (SG149)

The "transcendental world-style" of the Americans failed to impress most French critics. André Warnod wrote of the show in the April 3rd issue of Le Figaro, "In no case is any comparison with French painting possible." (Le Figaro, April 3, 1947, p 2/SG152) Denys Chevalier was equally critical in the April 4th issue of Arts magazine.

Denys Chevalier [from Arts magazine, April 4, 1947]:

Is the purpose of this show to demonstrate to us that abstract art no longer holds any secrets for American artists?... Or is it merely that someone wanted to prove to us that the Yankees, always eager for novelty, are now at the cutting edge of modern art? We have no way of knowing, but the fact is that all the works shown are nonfigurative, except for Browne's. This kind of audacity has long been familiar in the art of western Europe. For us it could not cause either surprise or scandal. The only thing that can still attract us in a work is therefore its quality. This is not conspicuous in the painting of Baziotes, Bearden, Browne, Gottlieb, Holty, and Motherwell. (SG151)

Spring 1947: Freedom Train organized by Clark and J. Edgar Hoover.

Coincided with 1948 presidential campaign - to rally country around Truman doctrine of the containment of Communism. (SG147)

April 22, 1947: U.S. Senate approves the Truman Doctrine 67 to 23. (SG141)
April 1 - May 4, 1947: "Large-Scale Modern Paintings" exhibition takes place at The Museum of Modern Art.

Paintings had to be at least six feet wide or high in order to qualify for the exhibition. (GH) Jackson Pollock's Mural (painted for Peggy Guggenheim's apartment) was one of the paintings shown. (PP322)

April 17 - c. May, 1947: Jean Paul Sartre's The Flies on Broadway.
April 28 - May 17, 1947: Robert Motherwell solo exhibition at the Samuel M. Kootz Gallery.
May 30, 1947: Pro-Soviet coup d'etat in Hungary. (SG141)
May 31, 1947: Peggy Guggenheim's Art of This Century Gallery closes. (PP322/JP174)

Peggy Guggenheim returned to Europe. (DK218) The curving gallery walls designed by Frederick Keisler were removed and sold to the Franklin Simon clothing store. (SS402)

May 1947: Jackson Pollock joins the Betty Parsons Gallery. (JP174)

Barnett Newman introduced Pollock to Parsons. Newman had met both Lee Krasner and Pollock in late 1946/early 1947. (MH) Peggy Guggenheim persuaded Betty Parsons to show Jackson Pollock after Guggenheim closed her gallery. Guggenheim maintained her contract with Pollock until early 1948. (PP322)

About Pollock Parsons would later say, "There was a desperation about him. When he wasn't drinking, he was shy, he could hardly speak. And when he was drinking, he wanted to fight... I would run away... " (JP177)

Betty Parsons:

He [Jackson Pollock] had tremendous drive and passion and it was too much for him. Whatever he did wasn't enough. Some people are born with too big an engine inside them. If he hadn't painted, he would have gone mad. (JP177-78)

May 1947: Jean-Paul Sartre criticizes the Surrealists.

Simone de Beauvoir (L) and Jean Paul Sartre during radio broadcast, 1946
(Photo: Robert Doisneau)

Jean-Paul Sartre [from "Qu'est-ce que la littérature?" in Les Temps Moderns, May 1947]:

The Surrealists don't destroy reality they put it in parentheses... They are really only a radicalized version of the Grand Meaulnes. Just as the preceding generation destroyed bourgeois life while preserving it in all its nuances, they want to cleanse themselves of original sin without renouncing the advantages of their position.... The Trotskyites are using Surrealism as an instrument of disruption. (SS393)

Sartre accused the Surrealists of colluding with the very people they criticised - the bourgeoisie.

Jean-Paul Sartre [from "Qu'est-ce que la littérature?" in Les Temps Moderns, May 1947]:

They [the Surrealists] are parasites of the class that they insult... They were all victims of the disaster of 1940. That is, when the moment of action came none of them was prepared for it. Some took their own lives, others went into exile; those who have come back are in exile among us... in the time of lean cows they have nothing to say to us. (SS393)

c. End Spring 1947: Barnett Newman quits.

Newman quit his part-time teaching job at Washington Irving Adult Center at the end of the school year. His wife, Annalee supported both of them on her teacher's salary which she would do for the next seventeen years. (MH)

Summer 1947: Jackson Pollock drips. (RO255)

Pollock utilized his paint dripping technique while working on canvases for his first exhibition at Betty Parsons' gallery.

From Jackson Pollock: A Biography by Deborah Solomon:

Pollock was not the first painter to employ the technique of dripping paint. Several critics believe he got the idea from Siqueiros, who as early as 1936 was laying his canvas on the floor and splattering Duco from a stick to help generate images. Other critics say the idea came from Hans Hofmann, who in 1940 enlivened the surface of a painting called Spring with an overlay of drips. And surely Pollock knew that Max Ernst, while visiting Matta's summer house in Cape Cod in 1941, had filled a tin can with paint, punctured a hole in the bottom, and swung it over a canvas; his 'oscillation' paintings were exhibited by Betty Parsons at the Wakefield Bookshop in 1942...

The seventeen 'drip' paintings that Pollock produced in 1947 generally consist of dense, tangled arrangements of tossed and flung line. At first, in a picture such as Galaxy, Pollock spattered paint to obscure an image that had begun as a human figure. But soon the spattering took over, and images started evolving out of the floor of paint. Cathedral, a large, vertical painting... hints at the soaring quality of later work. In Full Fathom Five Pollock embedded actual objects in the wet paint: a key, a comb, the caps from tubes of paint, a handful of tacks, cigarette butts, burnt matches...

Soon after he had finished preparing for the show [at the Betty Parsons Gallery] Pollock was visited by Ralph Manheim, a translator of German literature and his wife, who lived nearby in Springs. As was his customary practice, Pollock invited his visitors into his studio. When Manheim learned that the paintings had yet to be titled, he volunteered a few suggestions, and within a few hours he and his wife Mary had titled the majority of works. Many of the titles relate to the idea of metamorphosis, such as Alchemy, Prism, Sea Change and Full Fathom Five (the last two from Shakespeare). Titles such as Phosphorescence, Shooting Star, Magic Lantern and Comet seem to have been inspired by the ubiquity of aluminum paint, the color Pollock used most often after black and white. (JP179-81)

Paint dripping had also been used in a collaborative work by Pollock, Kamrowski and Baziotes known as Collaborative Painting in the winter of 1940. (See Winter 1940: Jackson Pollock, Gerome Kamrowski and William Baziotes drip paint.)

David Smith:

Jackson was very aware of European painting - Miró, Arp, Masson. When I asked him how he had come to drip, he showed me an automatic drawing by Arp in the catalog of "Fantastic Art Dada Surrealism" at the Museum of Modern Art in 1936. But Pollock always transformed what he took. (IS93)

Art dealer Samuel Kootz later recalled that Hans Hofmann had also dripped in 1940. Kootz signed Hofmann to his gallery in 1947 and also the idea of action painting derived "particularly from Hofmann."

Samuel Kootz:

... what came into being was a desire to construct the painting not from a sketch but as a direct action in the painting itself. Most of this particular idea of action painting derives particularly from Hofmann who rarely ever thought of a sketch in relation to a painting but went to the canvas, attacked it right from the beginning as a direct expression of what he wanted to say... (KD)

When asked by his interviewer about Hofmann using a "an allover drip method... as early as '43," Kootz replied that the "first picture that Hofmann made of that type that had an all over drip linear effect" was in 1940. (KD)

Samuel Kootz:

It wasn't a large picture, about 10" x 14", something like that, which was reshown in about 1955 or '56 in our gallery when I allowed Clement Greenberg to have a show for two weeks of early paintings of Hofmann. This was one of the paintings that he showed... That picture, seemed to me, antedated everything that Pollock began in 1947. It had the drip, it had the all over linear pattern and for many years could have been purchased for $150. When it was shown with other early pictures in the gallery selected by Greenberg, none of the pictures, presumably, were for sale. But when Alfred Barr of The Museum of Modern Art saw this particular picture to show the ancestry of Pollock. I told him at the time that Hofmann did not have it for sale, but when I suggested to Hofmann that Barr wanted it he immediately put a price on it of $5,000, which of course Mr. Barr was flabbergasted at, but later secured Peter Rubel who put up that amount of money to purchase the picture with the idea of presenting it at some future time to the Modern Museum for its records. Hofmann, of course, in that period, was doing many of the drip pictures which were also shown in this particular exhibit showing of Ecstasy, of Fantasia, any number of pictures of '42, '43 that had this same linearity, this same conscious quality of the drip. Which, of course, Pollock was acquainted with. The importance of Hofmann, it seems to me, drives not only from the teaching of freedom., of spontaneity, of automatism, but the two great things he taught were the respect for the two dimensionality of the canvas, and the idea of color as form. (KD)

Although Kootz credits Hofmann's painting style with some of the attributes of what was later referred to as "action painting," Jackson Pollock never studied under Hofmann - although his wife, Lee Krasner, did. Pollock explained his approach to painting in a statement that appeared in Robert Motherwell's Possibilities magazine later in the year.

Jackson Pollock:

My painting does not come from the easel, I hardly ever stretch my canvas before painting. I prefer to tack the unstretched canvas to the hard wall or the floor. I need the resistance of a hard surface. On the floor I am more at ease. I feel nearer, more a part of the painting, since this way I can walk around it, work from the four sides and literally be in the painting. This is akin to the method of the Indian sand painters of the west.

I continue to get further away from the usual painter's tools such as easel, palette, brushes, etc. I prefer sticks, trowels, knives and dripping fluid paint or a heavy impasto with sand, broken glass and other foreign matter added.

When I am in my painting, I am not aware of what I'm doing. It is only after a sort of 'get acquainted' period that I see what I have been about. I have no fears about making changes, destroying the image, etc., because the painting has a life of its own. I try to let it come through. It is only when I lose contact with the painting that the result is a mess. Otherwise there is pure harmony, an easy give and take, and the painting comes out well. (JF99-100)

The music editor of Possibilities was John Cage whose theories on randomness and chance could be likened to Jackson's random-looking drips of paint. B. H. Friedman wrote in Jackson Pollock: Energy Made Visible that Cage's "use of chance in his work has some affinity to Pollock's approach, though more to that of the Dadaists." (JF100) When art writer Irving Sandler later asked Cage about "the intensity, the excitement" of Pollock's work, Cage replied, "... They're precisely the things about Abstract Expressionism which didn't interest me. I wanted to change my way of seeing, not my way of feeling." (IS256)

John Cage:

... I tried to avoid him [Jackson Pollock], because he was generally drunk and unpleasant to encounter. I remember seeing him on the same side of the street I was on, and I would cross over to the other side. Now and then, I would be unable to avoid him. We would meet, and he always complained that I didn't like his work enough, and I didn't. I first saw one at Peggy Guggenheim's apartment uptown. She had a hallway downstairs in which there was this enormous mural. The image seemed to be taken from the human figure, and that immediately made my interest diminish. Then came along these things that you would think I would like, namely the allover dripped canvases. But I was familiar with Tobey, and Pollock's work looked easy in relation to Tobey's work, which looked far more complex. It was easy to see that Pollock had taken five or six cans of paint and more or less mechanically 'dripped.' He never troubled to vary the color, so the color didn't interest me. Whereas if you looked at a Tobey, you could see that each stroke has a slightly different white. And if you look at your daily life, you see that it hasn't been dripped from a can either. (IS256)

Summer 1947: Matta's first solo exhibition in France takes place at the Galerie René Drouin in Paris. (UL)
Summer 1947: Mark Rothko teaches at the California School of Fine Arts in San Francisco. (RO222)

Rothko taught at the school during the summers of 1947 and 1949. During the time he taught there the faculty included Elmer Bischoff, Edward Corbett, David Park, Hassel Smith, Clay Spohn and Clyfford Still. Graduate student Richard Diebenkorn taught at night. Rothko taught a studio class for advanced students three mornings a week and gave a one hour lecture one afternoon a week.

At one of Rothko's Friday lectures Clay Spohn brought a series of questions and wrote down Rothko's answers to the questions. When asked for his view on Picasso, Rothko answered, "Picasso is certainly not a mystic, nor much of a poet, nor does he express having any very deep or esoteric philosophy. His work is based purely upon a physical plane, a plane of exciting sensuous color, form, and design, but it does not go very far beyond this." When Spohn asked Rothko what direction paintings might take that were more advanced than Picasso ("or any other top-ranking painter"), Rothko answered, "Toward esoteric reasoning; expressing qualities of, or the essence of, universal elements; expressing basic truths." When Spohn asked if it was more important for an artist to be concerned with his own "compulsions" rather than "what he thinks is the best way to paint" Rothko answered, "The most interesting painting is one that expresses more of what one thinks than of what one sees. Philosophic or esoteric thought, for example." (RO261)

Douglas MacAgy remembered Rothko endlessly smoking cigarettes at the school, "the curling smoke almost a symbol of how he talked: very elusive talk." (RO264) (Rothko's doctor would later recall that Rothko's "greatest sources of consolation were calories and alcohol." (RO267)

While Rothko taught at the school he stayed in a wooden Victorian house on Russian Hill (2500 Leavenworth Street) (RO611fn77) - a considerable improvement on his small New York apartment over the fish restaurant.

On July 24 1947, he wrote to Barnett and Annalee Newman, "Our house is exquisite with a view of the bay on one side and Coit Tower on Telegraph Hill on the other. We are living in one of the Howard's houses, with a Hayter, Gorky, and Chas. Howard on our walls and a refrigerator in the kitchen... Besides, MacAgy has given me a little studio in the school and my canvas is prepared, my paper stretched and all I need is a blow on the head. Mell is deliriously delighted with the idea of being mistress of such a house, the attention and the beauty of the place, etc..." (RO261)

Rothko also visited his family in Portland at both the beginning and end of his stay in San Francisco. (RO265)

Summer 1947: Clyfford Still solo exhibition at the California Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco.

On July 23, 1947 Mark Rothko wrote to Betty Parsons: "Still's show has left us breathless both my students and everyone else I have met." (RO222-3)

Unfortunately, the press was not so "breathless" about the exhibit. After the show was reviewed negatively in the San Francisco Chronicle, Rothko met with some of his students and urged them to write a protest letter. Rothko told the students of his great respect for Still and that he [Rothko] "wouldn't have clarified his own ideas without their association." (RO227)

June 5, 1947: George C. Marshall launches the Marshall Plan.

Marshall gave a speech at Harvard in which he introduced what would be known as the Marshall Plan. (SG144)

June 10, 1947: Arshile Gorky's wife and children leave for Maine for the summer. (MS325)

Agnes and the children spent the summer in Castine, Maine with Agnes' Great-Aunt Marion. (MS325) With the family away, Gorky would be able to finish work that his new gallery expected. But the trip also provided Agnes with a respite from dealing with Gorky's medical condition and the moodiness that was a by-product of the operation. Agnes shared with her Aunt Marion an interest in psychology. Marion was a Jungian who had spent much of her life in analysis and had a small library of books about psychology and Marion and Agnes would stay up at night discussing Agnes' situation. Gorky and Agnes' daughter, Maro, who was five at the time, later recalled being aware of her mother's unhappiness. (MS332)

Prior to their departure, Gorky had been using a space in the Klein's building on Sixteenth Street as a studio. After the family left for Maine he returned to working in his Union Square studio and worked on a series of large drawings - The Calendars, The Plow and the Song and Pastorale. (MS323/326) By July he had finished a large drawing later titled Summation. (MS327) He kept in touch with the family through a series of letters:

Arshile Gorky [from a letter to Agnes dated June 29, 1947 (Agnes and the children had sent him some flowers from Aunt Marion's garden)]:

I loved the three sweet little violets you sent to my my galupcheg. one from you one from Maro and one from Natasha. Oh what a longing I have for you my Mouguch [Agnes] and for the little one each time I see a little girl or a boy I have tears in my eyes. Last night had dinner with Jeanne and Urban and Calas's - had nice time. Then I went to Isamu - he had little party - to morrow I am taking Dr. Weiss to Mitrapolitan Museum - with Mrs. Mitzger forgive this letter Darling I just had my bath - had a short note from peggy. she send the $9... I am will my darling do not worry about me. (MS325)

Jeanne Reynal often visited Gorky in his Union Square studio and wrote to Agnes about him. In one letter she wrote that she was going to dinner with the Levys the following day but that Gorky would not be able to attend because "it is night with his guts," referring to Gorky's cleansing procedure after his colostomy. According to Matthew Spender who would later marry Gorky's daughter Maro and write a biography of the artist, "The colostomy... was more than a piece of invasive surgery. It was an attack upon himself from within. He refused to wear the external bag designed to catch the excrement from the hole in his side, but tried to control the bowels by eating special foods. Every two or three days he gave himself a strong enema, which in the long run was debilitating." (MS327)

Matthew Spender:

The daily process of cleansing himself took a long time, and he insisted on doing it in absolute privacy. Once he was clean, he placed a large square of surgical lint over the opening and secured it firmly in place with tape. To apply and remove a wide band of tape several times a day inevitably chaffed his skin, but when Mougouch suggested that he use an elastic girdle or a tight cummerbund, he adamantly refused. He wanted the bandage to remain flat and sealed, so that for an hour or two he could enjoy at least the appearance of being as fit as he had once been. It was impossible, however, for him to control his intestines as he wanted. The opening made strange sounds and it would suddenly stain the bandage. So, rather than inflict this ordeal on his friends, Gorky preferred to remain alone at home. And that is what Jeanne alluded to when she wrote, "it is night with his guts." (MS327)

June 30, 1947: Barnett Newman's father dies.

Newman's father, Abraham, died on Barnett's eleventh wedding anniversary. (MH)

c. July 1947: Arshile Gorky sells Torso to Mina Metzger for $1,200.

Julien Levy deducted a commission of 20%. (MS327)

July 7, 1947: "Exposition Internationale du Surréalisme" at the Galerie Maeght, Paris opens.

[Note: Martica Sawin gives two dates for the opening of the exhibition. On page 395 of Surrealism in Exile and the Beginning of the New York School she indicates it opened on July 8th. On page 398 she mentions that it opened on July 4th. On page 400 she indicates that the exhibition closed on October 5, 1947 although she also mentions a letter from Breton to Donati dated September 14, 1947 in which Breton apparently refers to the show in the past tense. Sawin writes that in his September letter Breton "admitted that the exhibition had not been a succes d'estime and certainly not a financial success." (SS400). The "Selected Exhibitions" list in the Matta exhibition catalogue Matta Coïgitum gives the dates for the exhibition as July 7 - August 7, 1947. The Calder Foundation also gives the opening date of the exhibition as July 7th.

The show was the second exposition of Surrealism in Paris - the first had taken place January - February 1938 at the Galerie des Beaux-Arts. The catalogue for the exhibition (as well as the exhibition itself) is sometimes referred to as Le Surréalisme en 1947. A limited edition of the catalogue featured a rubber breast on the cover.

Although meant to reinvigorate the Surrealist movement in France, André Breton admitted that it had not been a "succes d'estime" (see note above) and press reaction was generally negative. Time magazine reviewed the show in their July 21, 1947 issue.

From Time magazine, July 21, 1947:

Prominently displayed in the gallery window were three rubber female breasts, mounted on velvet. Any knowledgeable Parisian recognized the signs immediately: the Surrealists were back. Up the 21 steps—which 1,500 curious Parisians climbed on the opening day—was Surrealism's first international show since 1938.

... Visitors, on entering, found themselves dodging a whirling lighthouse powered by an old Victrola motor. They moved on to a "Hall of Superstition," containing a 14-foot hand made of chicken wire, plaster and canvas. In a hole in the wall, an owl, a bat and a raven played whist. In another room, artificial rain fell steadily and one dry corner was reserved for a billiard table where passersby could stop and play a bit.

Besides witches, whirligigs and a nine-foot Totem of Religion made out of three old railroad ties, the show included some 125 paintings, photographs and wall splotches by Surrealists and fellow travelers of 19 nations, including the top ones: Max Ernst, Hans Arp, Yves Tanguy, Joan Miro, Man Ray. Many admirers of early Surrealism (such as Communist Louis Aragon) felt that the daft old horse had lost its kick.

... Poet Breton, who says that Surrealism (like himself) is now disillusioned with the Communism it once embraced, had a new manifesto. Its theme: "Dreams and revolutions should enter a pact. To dream of a revolution is . . . to carry it out with double strength. . . . Surrealism is what will be." Observers discounted the big talk. Said one: "After the gas chambers, those heaps of bones and teeth and shoes and eyeglasses, what is there left for the poor Surrealists to shock us with?"

David Hare who was in Paris during the summer of 1947 gave his impressions of the show in a letter to Donati dated August 8, 1947.

David Hare [August 8, 1947]:

The show finely opened after all the various disagreements that you can so well emagin since you remember VVV. However the public didn't know all that so they are labering under the imprestion the surealists are one big happy family. Surrealism is accepted as past history. The gallery is crowded with humanity with nothing better to do on an afternoon. There are no discussions, no fights, no real interest and yet it is a suces as a publicety stunt for the gallery. .one would say it was a popular success, but an intellectual failure... a small group of people amusing themselves with ideas they invented in 1929.
(SS398/spelling errors retained from original)

A group called the Jeunes Surrealistes Revolutionnaires protested the show, holding a demonstration against it about two weeks before it closed, saying that it represented the year 947 rather than 1947. The gallery's manager, Jacques Kober, was one of the signatories to the the group's statement of protest. (SS398)

c. July 1947: Arshile Gorky makes a pass at Jeanne Reynal.

When Jeanne told one of Gorky's children about the incident (about thirty years afterward) she said it came as a surprise and that she had never had any sexual feelings for him. She thought it might have had to do with either an attempt by Gorky to dominate her attention (which he felt he was losing when she purchased works by Pollock and de Kooning) or that he had been worrying about his masculinity, possibly as a result of his operation and his deteriorating physical condition. (MS328)

c. Summer 1947: Arshile Gorky submits drawing to Politics. (MS329)

Lionel Abel asked Gorky for a drawing for a French issue of Dwight Macdonald's magazine, Politics. When there was a technical glitch at reproducing the highly color drawing, Abel tried to return it but Gorky refused to take it back. When Abel asked about his health Gorky told him he had cancer "and something, just something, of his other difficulties as a result of having cancer." When Abel offered his sympathy, Gorky replied that perhaps he [Gorky] was like the ancient martyr Job. (Gorky also mentioned to Abel that Jackson Pollock had been to see his new work and had behaved so rudely that Gorky felt like throwing him down the stairs.) (MS329)

Another visitor to Gorky's studio that summer was Yenovk de Hagopian - a childhood friend from Van in Armenia who had also immigrated to America and had kept in touch with Gorky. He didn't know about Gorky's operation. During their conversation Gorky kept on apologizing for the noises coming from his stomach and Yenovk asked him "What is this pardon me business?" Gorky told him about his health problems. Yenovk's eyes filled with tears and Gorky picked him up in his chair and admonished him angrily, "Don't you dare cry." When Yenovk apologized Gorky set him down and Yenovk asked the artist why he hadn't told him before. Gorky replied "Is it a wedding to which I must send you an invitation?" (MS330) Exhausted, Gorky lay on the sofa (looking like death according to Yenovk) and talked about Van for hours, telling his childhood friend that they never appreciated what they had back then. (MS330)

June 25-28, 1947: The Eleventh National Congress of the French Communist Party takes place.

Laurent Casanova [from "La Communisme, la pensee, et l'art," Eleventh National Congress of the French Communist Party, 1947]:

Carriers of an alien ideology, American films are invading our theaters, American books are inundating our book stores, and foreign film producers and publishing houses are setting up shop within our very borders for the purpose of degrading our national spirit, aided by various economic and culture agreements. All of these carefully planned undertakings aimed at regimenting the French mind in keeping with the needs of a new global expansionism have been approved in the name of artistic freedom. (SG150/238fn179)

August 1947: The American Federation of Teachers adopts as the theme for their annual (80th) congress, "Strengthening Education for National and World Security."

The Office of Education stated in their annual report that year, "The single most important educational frontier of all involved the need to strengthen national security through education." (U.S. Office of Education, Annual Report, 1947) (SG237fn166)The AFT selected textbooks that instilled principles of democracy and produced two pamphlets under title Growing into Democracy. One showed teachers "how the principles of democracy may be inculcated in children through precept and experience." The other was for use in high schools as a guide to 'the strategy and tactics of world Communism." (Annual Report) (SG146)

August 1947: Arshile Gorky visits his family in Maine. (MS333)

While there the family had a picnic. Photos taken during the picnic show Gorky looking tired and thin. When he returned to New York, he looked at the photos of his family at the picnic and talked to them as he worked day and night on his paintings in order to meet his contractual requirements with Julien Levy. He wrote to Agnes in late August that "I am beginning to see the promised land. last week I was also depressed. - Mougouch my sweet but dont you be depressed." He told her he had been reading What is Existentialism? by William Barrett and Modern Women - The Last Sex. He added, "galupcheg dont be angry about this letter; This dreadful letter. I have been working so hard that my head goes round - and round." (MS334)

Mid-September 1947: Agnes and the children return to Union Square. (MS336)

The day before she returned Agnes phoned Gorky to ask if she could stay in Concord for a day on her way back to see an Uncle. Gorky said no and hung up the phone. Agnes' Aunt Marion then rang to ask again and Gorky considered the subject closed. When Marion persisted Gorky lost his patience and told her that when Agnes returned he would "beat the devil out of her." Aunt Marion told him not to even think of such a thing: "We don't beat wives in America." (MS336)

Autumn 1947: Robert Motherwell, Pierre Chareau, Harold Rosenberg and John Cage collaborate on Possibilities magazine.

The first and only issue was the winter 1947/48 issue. Motherwell dealt with art, Chareau with architecture, Rosenberg with literature and Cage with music.

Robert Motherwell:

Sometime in the 1940's - I forget when - say, about 1947, when I was still editing books with Wittenborn and Schultz they told me that they'd like to put out an annual about the current scene and would I edit it. I said sure; but I think it should be broader than just painting and sculpture, and that it was too great a responsibility and too great a demand on my time to do it single-handed. I said that I would be glad to do it if I could have some co-editors. They said, "Fine. Who do you want?" I suggested Pierre Chareau as the architectural editor; he was a French architect-in-exile with whom I had worked several years building a studio in East Hampton. I suggested John Cage to deal with music and dance. And Harold Rosenberg to deal with literature; and I would do the painting part. They found that agreeable. We brought out an issue. It was called Possibilities. (SR)

[Note: The Wolfgang Paalen "Abridged Biographical Chronology" on the Frey Norris gallery website claims that Possibilities was a continuation of Paalen's DYN magazine.]

1947: Wolfgang Paalen becomes a Mexican citizen.

Paalen applied for Mexico citizenship after his application for U.S. citizenship failed.

September 1947: Franz Kline moves to 52 East 9th Street.

Kline moved to the top floor of the house which had once belonged to Lillian Russell. John Ferren lived on the third floor of the building and Marca-Relli on the second floor. (FK178) Ferren later recalled that Kline usually slept in the daytime and stayed up late at night visiting the Cedar Street Tavern and/or painting in his studio. Emmanuel Navaretta, who shared Kline's loft for most of 1950, remembered waking up at 7 am occasionally and still finding Kline painting. (FK90)

In 1948, Kline shared his apartment for approximately six months with Earl Kerkam who had been a member of The Ten by the time of their final exhibition in 1939. Kerkam would later refer to Kline as a "drunker Mondrian."

c. Mid-late 1940s: Franz Kline becomes a regular at the Cedar Street Restaurant and Bar.

According to a "Mid 1940s" entry in the Franz Kline chronology in Franz Klinebook, "After World War II, Kline begins going regularly to the Cedar Bar, an artists' hangout on the west side of University Place, between Eighth and NInth Streets." (FK178)

The Cedar would eventually replace the Waldorf Cafeteria as the main hangout (along with the The Club from late 1949) for the Abstract Expressionists during the late 1940s and 1950s. The bar is referred to by various names in accounts of the era - the Cedar, the Cedar Bar, the Cedar Street Tavern etc... As the photographs show below, the name on the entrance canopy was the Cedar Street Tavern. The name on the round neon sign was the Cedar St. Restaurant/Bar.

Cedar Street Tavern

Cedar Bar Restaurant

Top: detail from photo taken by Fred W. McDarrah on October 2, 1959 (IS) Bottom: photo by Dudley Grey (JF)

Irving Sandler:

Franz Kline held court at the Cedar Street Tavern almost every night after ten. He would talk to anyone and consequently was the most accessible of his peers to young artists - and to me. Franz was the most amiable of the older Abstract Expressionists. As one admirer recalled 'He liked beer at the Cedar Bar and English tea in the studio. He could play the dandy or the clown, act like Ted Lewis, Wallace Beery, or Mae West, talk about rugs, vintage cars, Gericault's horse, baseball, and Baron Gros. He loved jazz and Wagner. He was a confirmed New Yorker, but had roots that he never forgot in the gritty coal country of eastern Pennsylvania.... He could juggle life until it came up fun.' ... Every now and then Franz would grow silent, his eyes distant, and he would appear overcome with loneliness - even in the company of friends - a look that is often caught in photographs of him. I often wondered how much of this sadness was caused by the plight of his wife, Elizabeth, a former ballet dancer. From 1948 to 1960, she was committed to a mental institution where Franz visited her periodically. (IS58-59)

[Note: Elizabeth was actually first committed in 1946 - See May 1946.]

September 9 - 27, 1947: Federation of Modern Painters and Sculptors annual exhibition at Wildstein's.

Each member presented a work by a non-member. Mark Rothko presented Clyfford Still's Apostate. (RO223)

October 1947: First issue of Tiger's Eye is published.

Tiger's Eye was a small arts magazine edited by a writer, Ruth Stephan, and her husband, John Stephan who was a painter affiliated with the Betty Parsons Gallery. When John contributed an artist statement to the Tiger's Eye on the topic of "Why I Paint," he wrote, "An artist paints so that he will have something to look at; at times he must write so that he will also have something to read." (MH)

The magazine ran for nine issues published from October 1947 to October 1949. Contributors included Barnett Newman, Rufino Tamayo, Mark Rothko, Joan Miro, Adolph Gottlieb, René Magritte, Morris Graves, Max Ernst, Pablo Picasso, Mark Tobey, Robert Motherwell, Yves Tanguy, Jackson Pollock, Clyfford Still, Eugene Berman, Georges Braque, Stephen Spender, Alexander Calder, Hans Arp, Jacques Lipchitz, Isamu Noguchi, Constantin Brancusi, Naum Gabo, William Baziotes, Ad Reinhardt, Georges Bataille, Kurt Seligmann, Maya Deren, John Cage, Alberto Giacometti, Lyonel Feininger, Paul Klee, Georges Rouault, Yves Tanguy, Wassily Kandinsky, Dorothea Tanning, Charles Henri Ford, Louise Bourgeois, Antonin Artaud, Kurt Schwitters, Jean Dubuffet and Jean Genet.

Among the five articles published in the magazine by Barnett Newman were: "The First Man Was an Artist" (October 1947) and "The Sublime is Now" (December 1948) (TH19)

Elaine de Kooning:

I know that at one point there was a magazine called Tiger's Eye and they invoked Greek mythology and so on. And it was very forced, let's say. It did not come naturally, and they named a painting of Bill's - one of his black and white paintings that he was doing at the time - Orestes. It was not inappropriate. The painting did have this sense of possibly of the furies and so on, but Bill was in no way thinking about Orestes or Greek mythology with which he is not acquainted. So they just kind of imposed it. (SE)

October 1947: Clement Greenberg praises Jackson Pollock in Horizon.

The October issue of the British magazine Horizon was devoted to American society and art. Horizon was co-edited by Cyril Connolly and Sir Stephen Spender. Spender's son Matthew would later go on to marry Arshile Gorky's daughter, Maro, and write a biography on the artist, From a HIgh Place: A Life Of Arshile Gorky.

Art critic Clement Greenberg's comments praising Jackson Pollock in the October issue of Horizon are often quoted but the quotes usually leave out his remarks on David Smith being a "more fully realised" artist than Pollock and Morris Graves and Mark Tobey being more original.

Clement Greenberg [from "The Present Prospects of American Painting and Sculpture," Horizon nos. 93-94 (October 1947), p. 25-6]:

Significantly and peculiarly, the most powerful painter in contemporary America and the only one who promises to be a major one is a Gothic, morbid and extreme disciple of Picasso's cubism and Miro's post-cubism, tinctured also with Kandinsky and Surrealist inspiration His name is Jackson Pollock, and if the aspect of his art is not as originally and uniquely local as that of Grave's and Tobey's, the feeling it contains is perhaps even more radically American... David Smith, a sculptor and kind of constructivist, is several years older than Pollock and more fully realized. He is the only other American artist of our time who produces an art capable of withstanding the test of international scrutiny and which, like Pollock's, might justify the term major. (CG166-7)

Time magazine published excerpts from Greenberg's article when they featured Jackson Pollock in their December issue (see below).

October 1947: Jackson Pollock applies for a Guggenheim Fellowship.

Jackson Pollock [from his Fellowship application]:

I believe the easel picture to be a dying form and the tendency of modern feeling is towards the wall picture or mural. I believe the time is not yet ripe for a full transition from easel to mural. The pictures I contemplate painting would constitute a halfway state, and an attempt to point out the direction of the future, without arriving there completely. (PK17/JP171)

Despite also submitting letters of recommendation from Thomas Hart Benton, Clement Greenberg and James Johnson Sweeney, Pollock failed to get the fellowship. (JP171)

October 14 - November 4, 1947: Kay Sage exhibition at the Julien Levy Gallery. (MA311)
November 1947: William Baziotes is awarded the Campana Prize for Cyclops.

Baziotes received the $1,000 Campana Prize of the Chicago Art Institute for his painting, Cyclops. Peyton Boswell described the work as "bilious in color, sloppy in craftsmanship and ignorant in design" in the November 15th issue of Art Digest. (SG180)

November 6, 1947–January 11, 1948: "Abstract and Surrealist American Art: Fifty–Eighth Annual Exhibition of American Paintings and Sculpture," at the Art Institute of Chicago.

Among the works exhibited were Jackson Pollock's The Key and Barnett Newman's Euclidian Abyss (shown under the title of Black and Yellow). The catalogue for the exhibition was by Frederick A. Sweet and Katherine Kuh. Connecticut art collectors Burton and Emily Tremaine purchased Euclidian Abyss - Newman's first sale of a painting. (MH)

November 19, 1947 - January 4, 1948: "2nd Annual Exhibition of Paintings" at the Palace of the Legion of Honor, San Francisco.

Arshile Gorky's Nude is included. (BA552)

c. November 1947: Arshile Gorky and his family return to Connecticut.

They rented out the Union Square studio again and moved into the Hebbeln house (aka the Glass House) where the fire had taken place the previous year. Agnes' Great Aunt Marion spent Christmas with them. (MS337)

The Hebbeln's home was located in Sherman, Connecticut and was referred to as the Glass House because when the Hebbelns renovated it, they replaced one wall with an insulated plate-glass wall. Gorky used an added extension as his studio. (MS347)

From Arshile Gorky: His Life and Work by Hayden Herrera:

The Glass House in Sherman was an 1803 post-and-beam farmhouse that Henry Hebbeln had gutted to create an eight-room home with a sophisticated combination of old and modern... Gorky did not feel at home with the Glass House's modern furniture, pieces chosen by the architect so that they had no binding personal history. And the long, narrow studio that had been a woodshed and that was attached to the west side of the house didn't feel right to Gorky, either. He and Mougouch had fixed it up, but it was cramped, and he surely mourned the studio up on the hill where he had painted until he burned it down... (HH556-7)

The time at the Hebbeln house was difficult for Gorky and his family. He had become increasingly morose because of his illness and sometimes spoke of suicide. The illness created a gap between him and his wife. He felt embarrassed by his colostomy and resisted his wife's efforts to help him cleanse his wound.

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

... he [Gorky] descended from a reluctance to engage in any kind of physical contact to a psychological rejection of his wife's presence, a rejection connected with an increasingly tortured relationship with his own body. She herself was longing to help, especially in this matter of cleansing his wound. It would be, for her, an act of love. He would have none of it... Though he refused to let her come too near, Gorky became just as anxious if she ever left his side, even for an hour or two to drive down to the grocery store...

Gorky's difficulties were known to a number of people, and friends came up from New York to offer him their moral support. One weekend Nico Calas's wife, Lola, saw Gorky take a rope with him as she and the children set out for a walk after lunch. Nearing the wood, he asked Maro to choose a suitable tree from which to hang himself. Lola was appalled. "I told him he should not talk about such things in front of a child. (MS352)

November 28, 1947: Mark Rothko signs with the Betty Parsons Gallery.

At the age of forty-four, Mark Rothko finally obtained his first contract with a dealer. The contract expired on June 30, 1949 and stipulated that Betty Parsons would receive 33% of all sales through the gallery and 15% of any studio sales. Parsons was responsible for "the promotion of the artist." The contract also required Rothko to get written permission from Parsons for any exhibits outside the gallery. (RO232/RO604n3) Among the paintings that followed Rothko from Art of This Century to the Betty Parsons Gallery were Gethsemane, Phalanx of the Mind, Agitation of the Archaic and Intimations of Chaos. (RO605fn6)

Parsons held five annual one-man shows of Rothko's work between 1947 and 1951. His work was also included in "The Ideographic Picture" exhibition at the gallery, curated by Barnett Newman in 1947. (RO232)

[According to the Barnett Newman Foundation's chronology, Rothko joined the gallery in June 1946 - about three months before it opened.]

1947: Franz Kline paints white paintings.

Kline allowed large areas of the canvas to show through or incorporated extensive white overpainting and calligraphic brush strokes. (FK178)

c. Winter 1947 - Spring 1948: Willem de Kooning starts painting black and white abstractions. (DK243)

According to de Kooning biographers, Mark Stevens and Annalyn Swan in de Kooning: An American Master, "For de Kooning, 1947 and 1948 were the landmark years when he began painting the 'black-and white' abstractions, which some critics consider his greatest works." (DK243) The same book notes that "In the winter and spring of 1948, de Kooning suddenly broke free in his own way, creating a succession of 'black' paintings that are among the most beautiful works of the twentieth century. Surrounded by the cans of cheap enamel, de Kooning, with the joy of a bum made rich, let go as never before, loading his brush and splattering on the paint and, as he put it, 'going to town.' During this burst, de Kooning made Painting, Village Square and Dark Pond." (DK248)

Willem de Kooning:

On 4th Avenue I was painting in black and white a lot. Not with a chip on my shoulder about it, but I needed a lot of paint and I wanted to get free of materials. I could get a gallon of black paint and a gallon of white paint, and I could go to town. (DK245)

Winter 1947-48: Philip Guston paints The Tormentors.

The Tomentors is a key work of Guston's as it is almost completely abstract. Previously his work had been mostly figurative.

December 1, 1947: Jackson Pollock in Time magazine.

In an article titled "The Best?" works by the three artists (Pollock, Smith and Hofmann) that Greenberg had praised as "important" or "major" in his October 1947 article in Horizon were reproduced with some of Greenberg's comments about the artists.

The Pollock painting that was reproduced was The Key (1946).

December 6, 1947 - January 25, 1948: "1947 Annual Exhibition of Contemporary Painting," at the Whitney Museum of American Art.

Arshile Gorky's The Calendars was included. (BA552) Jackson Pollock showed Galaxy (1947). (PP322) The exhibition also included work by Hans Hofmann.

December 27, 1947: Arshile Gorky's father dies.

Gorky's sister, Satenig, told Gorky the news. Gorky's father Setrag (Sedrak) had been living in the home of a shoe salesman, paying the rent with money he received from Social Security. The salesman had triplets and when they grew up, they needed more space so Setrag was asked to leave. He initially tried to go back to his elder son Hagop but it didn't work out. He checked into the nearest hospital even though he wasn't ill and refused to eat. After ten days he died. None of his children attended his funeral. (MS337)

Gorky didn't tell his wife, Agnes, about his father's death as she believed his father had already died. (BA447) Gorky always gave the impression that he never saw his father again after his father left some of his family (including Gorky) in Van in Armenia just prior to the Armenian Genocide. (See "Arshile Gorky's Childhood.") Gorky felt that his father had deserted them. (MS338)

Gorky's painting The Orators (1947-48) is sometimes linked to his father's death, although the painting was begun several months prior. The composition of the painting comes from a landscape drawing done in Virginia in the summer of 1946. Agnes later said that the work was inspired by the orators of Union Square who would stand on soapboxes, preaching politics (and almost everything else) to anyone who would listen. (MS339)

End 1947: The U.S. Attorney General issues the first list of subversive organizations.

From The Truman Doctrine and the Origins of McCarthyism by Richard M. Freeland:

Since the list also became a test of employability in state and local governments, defense-related industries, and schools, and of eligibility for passports, occupancy of federally financed housing, and tax exemptions, it does not seem excessive or imprudent speculation to suggest that the Attorney General's list had a profoundly suppressing effect upon political dissent in the U.S. In this sense, the impact of the list's publication was to enroll the whole country in a vast loyalty program. (SG146)

Winter 1947/48: First and only issue of Possibilities magazine is published.

See above: "Autumn 1947: Robert Motherwell, Pierre Chareau, Harold Rosenberg and John Cage collaborate on Possibilities magazine."

Winter 1947/8: Mark Rothko's "The Romantics were Prompted" is published in Possibilities magazine. (RO239)

Rothko may have been referring to the essay when he wrote to Robert Motherwell the previous winter, on December 8, 1946: "The article is pretty well formed and written... I shall want to go over it a time or two more... it will be in the mail on Thursday reaching you on Friday, unless I see you in town before then." Motherwell was an editor of Possibilities at the time. Rothko's words seem to apply particularly to his multiforms:

From "The Romantics were Prompted" by Mark Rothko:

The romantics were prompted to seek exotic subjects and to travel to far off places. They failed to realize that, though the transcendental must involve the strange and unfamiliar, not everything strange or unfamiliar is transcendental...

I think of my pictures as dramas; the shapes in the pictures are the performers. They have been created from the need for a group of actors who are able to move dramatically without embarrassment and execute gestures without shame.

Neither the action nor the actors can be anticipated, or described in advance. They begin as an unknown adventure in an unknown space. It is at the moment of completion that in a flash of recognition, they are seen to have the quantity and function which was intended. Ideas and plans that existed in the mind at the start were simply the doorway through which one left the world in which they occur.

The great cubist pictures thus transcend and belie the implications of the cubist program.

The most important tool the artist fashions through constant practice is faith in his ability to produce miracles when they are needed...

On shapes:
They are unique elements in a unique situation.
They are organisms with volition and a passion for self-assertion.
They move with internal freedom, and without need to conform with or to violate what is probable in the familiar world.
Thy have no direct association with any particular visible experience, but in them one recognizes the principle and passion of organisms...

I do not believe that there was ever a question of being abstract or representational. It is really a matter of ending this silence and solitude, of breathing and stretching one's arms again. (WA58-9)

End 1947: Barnett Newman moves his studio to a storefront at 304 East 19th Street.

Newman's new studio was located across the street from his apartment. (MH)

to 1948 (a)

Abstract Expressionism

Ab Ex Contents

Ab Ex Essays