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John Graham (1881-1961)
John Graham (1881-1961)

John Graham (1881-1961)

John Graham (1881-1961)

Head of a Young Woman
signed and dated 'GRAHAM XXXXIV' (lower left)
silverpoint and graphite on paper
8 ¾ x 8 ¾ in. (22.2 x 22.2 cm.)
Drawn in 1944.

Portrait of a Princess
signed twice and dated 'GRAHAM XXXXII' (lower right)
graphite on paper
image: 11 ¼ x 8 ¼ in. (28.6 x 21 cm.)
sheet: 13 ¾ x 9 ¾ in. (34.9 x 24.8 cm.)
Drawn in 1942.
Private collection, acquired directly from the artist
By descent from the above to the present owner
West Palm Beach, Norton Gallery of Art; Pensacola Museum of Art; Little Rock, Arkansas Arts Center and Springfield, Massachusetts, Museum of Fine Arts, The Fine Line: Drawing with Silver in America, March 1985-January 1986, pp. 54 and 97, no. 30 (Head of a Young Woman exhibited and illustrated).
Purchase, State University of New York, Neuberger Museum; Newport Beach, Newport Harbor Art Museum; Berkeley, University of California, University Art Museum; University of Chicago, David and Alfred Smart Gallery and Washington, D.C., Phillips Collection, John Graham: Artist and Avatar, June 1987-September 1988, pp. 69-70 and 154, no. 65 (Head of a Young Woman exhibited and illustrated).

Lot Essay

Though dated only two years apart, these two works on paper depict the heads of two women with radically different stylistic approaches. Graham, who would greatly influence a generation of Abstract Expressionists painters such as Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning and Franz Kline, was a decidedly figurative painter, albeit not a realist one. Portrait of a Princess depicts an imaginary, even mythic and divine, female ideal in a style reminiscent of sinewy and curvaceous lines of his European contemporaries Picasso
and Matisse. Where Portrait of a Princess is a fictional portrait, Head of a Woman, like so many of Graham’s female portraits from the 1940s and 1950s, was inspired by his relationship with Marianne Strate, the mother of famed gallerist Ileana Sonnabend.

Executed in 1944 within a year of meeting here, the drawing expresses the tenderness he felt towards his beloved. Here, Graham exercises his technical skill as a draftsman, rendering the Strate’s head with a subtle touch using the elegant medium of silverpoint to express the fine curves of her face. As Graham connoisseur and curator of the artist’s 1987 retrospective at The Philips Collection in Washington, D.C., Eleanor Green notes about the drawing, Strate herself may have encourage the artist’s forays with silverpoint, given her experience as an accomplished book binder.

Green writes, “It is possible to be fairly accurate in dating paintings within the span of years Graham and Marianne spent together, because they have a Renaissance air of controlled balance [quite a contrast to the artist’s mercurial temperament], with none of the arcane, expressionist motifs of the later paintings” (E. Green, John Graham: Artist and Avatar, exh. cat.; Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C., 1987, p. 68).

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