Barnett Newman

Gallery One

Barnett Newman was born on the Lower East Side of New York City in 1905. He grew up in the Bronx, took classes at the Art Students League, and graduated from City College in 1927. During the 1930s he helped with his father's clothing manufacturing business and worked as a substitute art teacher in the public schools. This exhibition begins with Newman's first surviving drawings, made in 1944 when he was thirty-nine. The compositions bear suggestions of plant life or living creatures, reflecting Newman's interest in botany and ornithology. The themes of creation and fertility were a mirror for his own situation, as he cautiously reached for the long-delayed dream of becoming an artist himself. During the next year he continued to experiment in crayon and watercolor; he also made several ink drawings in the rapid, improvisational manner of the Surrealists. Newman's first surviving painting, never titled, features a premonitory form of the vertical band-the "zip"-that later would define his signature style. At this time he also explored the motif of the circle-ripe with cosmic associations-as seen in his first concerted effort at a masterpiece, Pagan Void.

click image to enlarge
Untitled Drawing
Oil, oil crayon and pastel on paper
19 3/8 x 25 1/2 inches (49.2 x 64.8 cm)

Collection of David and Jennifer Stockman.
Photograph by Bruce White, Courtesy of the Barnett Newman Foundation.
Untitled Drawing
Pagan Void
Oil on canvas
33 x 38 inches (83.8 x 96.5 cm)

Gift of Annalee Newman, in honor of the 50th Anniversary of the National Gallery of Art.
Photograph © 2001 Board of Trustees, National Gallery of Art, Washington.
Pagan Void
Philadelphia Museum of Art