Barnett Newman

Gallery Eleven -- Modern and Contemporary Alter Gallery (176)

The Stations of the Cross: Lema Sabachthani
1958-66
National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. Robert and Jane Meyerhoff Collection

The Stations of the Cross presents a virtuoso demonstration of Newman's approach to painting. Although the series is purely abstract, it shares some of the characteristics found in traditional religious depictions of the Passion of Christ: its number of scenes (fourteen) and the somber mood. According to the artist, the series takes its meaning from Christ's cry on the cross- "Lema Sabachthani" (God, Why have you forsaken me?)-a cry that might have come not just from Christ, but from martyrs throughout the course of human history. Each canvas measures about 78 by 60 inches, an imposing but not overwhelming size that Newman called "a human scale for the human cry."

Newman painted the Stations over the course of eight years, using a palette of only black, raw canvas, and white. He wanted to work in such a way that "the whole canvas would become color and have a sense of light." It is apparent that Newman was not working from a formula or system, but improvising new compositions for each painting, letting, as he said, "work grow out of work." The restricted palette casts the device of the zip in an especially demanding role. The zip can be a band of paint atop the raw canvas or a band of raw canvas between two painted areas. It can be defined by brushed bursts of paint, or clean lines. The true impossibility of reading Newman's zips in terms of foreground and background is most apparent in the four white Stations, as the different sections of the compositions interlock in a richly ambiguous fashion. A fifteenth painting, titled Be II, joined the Stations when they were first shown at the Guggenheim Museum in 1966, and has remained with the series ever since.

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First Station
1958
Magna on canvas
77 7/8 x 60 1/2 in. (197.8 x 153.7 cm)

National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.
Robert and Jane Meyerhoff Collection
Photograph by Bruce White, Courtesy of the Barnett Newman Foundation
First Station
Second Station
1958
Magna on canvas
78 1/8 x 60 1/2 inches (198.4 x 153.2 cm)

National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.
Robert and Jane Meyerhoff Collection
Photograph by Bruce White, Courtesy of the Barnett Newman Foundation
Second Station
Third Station
1960
Oil on canvas
78 1/8 x 59 7/8 inches (198.4 x 153.2 cm)

National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.
Robert and Jane Meyerhoff Collection
Photograph by Bruce White, Courtesy of the Barnett Newman Foundation
Third Station
Fourth Station
1967
Oil on canvas
78 x 60 1/4 inches (198.1 x 153 cm)

National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.
Robert and Jane Meyerhoff Collection
Photograph by Bruce White, Courtesy of the Barnett Newman Foundation
Fourth Station
Philadelphia Museum of Art