Barnett Newman
"The problem of a painting is physical and metaphysical, the same as I think life is physical and metaphysical."
- Barnett Newman
Barnett Newman

Despite their apparent simplicity, Barnett Newman's paintings are among the most challenging works of art of the twentieth century. They have sometimes been regarded as philosophic statements made without artistic skill, or conversely, as pure painting devoid of a subject. In truth, as Newman said, his paintings involve both: spirit and matter. Newman came of age as an artist during the aftermath of World War II, together with friends such as Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, and Clyfford Still, who would collectively become known as the Abstract Expressionists. This generation was determined that American art would no longer take second-class status to European art. Working at large scale and shunning traditional imagery, they invented individual visual languages that changed the course of modern art. For all of them, the subject of their abstract painting was the self-both in the particular sense of the artist's own existence, and more generally, in the freedom and strength of the human spirit.

Newman's body of work spans no more than twenty-five years. His first surviving painting dates from 1945, when he was forty, and his last to 1970, the year of his death. Not a prolific artist, he created about 120 paintings during that time. These numbers exist in contrast to Newman's far-reaching and profound influence on artists of the following generations, for whom he opened new doors to what painting could be.

Philadelphia Museum of Art