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The Deposition

Bob Thompson, American, 1937 - 1966

Made in United States, North and Central America


Oil on canvas

66 inches × 6 feet 3 1/2 inches (167.6 × 191.8 cm)

© Estate of Bob Thompson, Courtesy of Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, New York

Curatorial Department:
Contemporary Art

Object Location:

Currently not on view

Accession Number:

Credit Line:
125th Anniversary Acquisition. Purchased with funds contributed by Harvey S. Shipley Miller and J. Randall Plummer, and with funds raised in honor of the 125th Anniversary of the Museum and in celebration of African American art, 2000

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Bob Thompson painted The Deposition in 1961, the year he moved to Paris. It was at this time that the artist began to create religious scenes based on Italian Renaissance and Baroque paintings he saw at the Musée du Louvre. Inspired by the vibrant works of Paul Gauguin and Henri Matisse, Thompson reinterpreted the Louvre paintings with vivid colors, flat shapes, and limited anatomical detail. Thompson linked his appropriation of traditional imagery to the methods of jazz musicians, who constantly reinvent musical compositions through spontaneous improvisation.

Additional information:
  • PublicationGifts in Honor of the 125th Anniversary of the Philadelphia Museum of Art

    Bob Thompson's signature work depicts religious-mythic themes derived from the compositions of the old master paintings that he admired. The artist reinvigorated the traditional subject matter through his use of hot, vibrant colors and flat shapes, inspired in part by the work of Paul Gauguin and Henri Matisse.

    Thompson studied art at the University of Louisville in his native Kentucky before moving to New York in 1959. He soon became a prominent figure in the burgeoning Manhattan art scene, exhibiting his colorful Symbolist works at the Zabriskie Gallery and participating in some of the earliest "Happenings" staged in the United States. In 1961 Thompson moved to Paris, where his work underwent a dramatic change, reflecting the impact of the Renaissance and Baroque paintings that he encountered on his daily sketching excursions to the Louvre.

    Like many of the paintings that Thompson made during his first year in Paris, at the age of twenty-four, The Deposition deals with images of death and martyrdom, in this case the descent of Christ's body from the cross. Although the picture was probably based on an existing painting--the subject matter is particularly associated with the work of Peter Paul Rubens--the exuberant colors and absence of modeling and anatomical detail in the figures are hallmarks of Thompson's distinctive style. In the artist's view, his appropriation of traditional imagery was linked to the methods of jazz musicians, such as his friend Ornette Coleman, who continually reinvented existing musical compositions through spontaneous improvisation.

    Thompson's tragic early death at the age of twenty-eight, following complications from surgery and prolonged drug addiction, cut short a prolific career in which he had produced nearly one thousand paintings and drawings in a mere six years--a testament to his feverish imagination and unique artistic vision. Michael Taylor, from Philadelphia Museum of Art: Gifts in Honor of the 125th Anniversary (2002), p. 138.