Barnett Newman

Gallery Six

When Barnett Newman staged his second exhibition at the Betty Parsons Gallery, New York, in 1951, it was a critical and financial disaster that garnered scathing reviews and no sales. He spent the next four years painting in isolation, showing and selling nothing at all. It was exactly at this time that Newman's friends and fellow artists Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, and Willem de Kooning rose to fame. If not for the financial and moral support of his wife Annalee, a schoolteacher, Newman could not have continued to paint. Nonetheless, the artist made some of his most astonishingly beautiful works during this difficult period. He further explored the large-scale format, creating, for example, several eleven-foot-tall paintings. He also experimented with the zip, sending it to the four edges of the canvas. In all of his work from these years, complex brushwork and layers of color play an important role in creating the physical and emotional texture of the canvases. The artist Frank Stella recalls that when he first saw the painting Ulysses on display in New York in 1959, he felt compelled to try "to keep its pushy blueness from toppling the Empire State Building."

click image to enlarge
Oil on canvas
132 1/2 x 50 1/8 inches (336.6 x 127.3 cm)

The Menil Collection, Houston. Gift of Adelaide de Menil Carpenter and Dominque de Menil.
Photograph by Bruce White, Courtesy of the Barnett Newman Foundation.
Philadelphia Museum of Art