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Jackson Pollock (1912-1956)
Jackson Pollock (1912-1956)
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Jackson Pollock (1912-1956)

Untitled

Details
Jackson Pollock (1912-1956)
Untitled
signed and dated 'Jackson Pollock 51' (lower left)
ink and watercolor on Howell paper
13 x 15 7/8 in. (33 x 40.3 cm.)
Executed in 1951.
Provenance
Mr. and Mrs. Hans Namuth, New York, acquired directly from the artist
Peter J. Namuth, New York
Betty Parsons Gallery, New York
Anon. sale; Etude Loudmer, Paris, 16 February 1992, lot 56
Private collection, Brussels
Anon. sale; Artcurial, Paris, 4 June 2019, lot 10
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner
Literature
F. V. O'Connor and E. V. Thaw, eds., Jackson Pollock, A Catalogue Raisonné of Paintings, Drawings and Other Works, vol. 3, New Haven and London, 1978, p. 309, no. 829 (illustrated).
Exhibited
New York, Museum of Modern Art, Jackson Pollock, April-June 1967, p. 136, no. 162.

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Lot Essay

Untitled belongs to an important series of black and white paintings that Jackson Pollock created in 1951. Rendered in black ink on Howell paper, Untitled illustrates the exquisite balance between chaos and control that Pollock had, by 1951, wielded with such consummate mastery. The intriguing array of jots, swirls, splatters and tiny stipulated dots that are arranged within the paper support conjure up a host of associations, ranging from primitive cave paintings to those of Joan Miró, and, with its rhythmic arrangement of vertical elements—Pollock’s own Blue Poles of the following year. The result is striking—raw, direct and immediate—where the swift assuredness of the artist’s hand creates an intriguing visual landscape that defies categorization or rational thought.

Untitled is distinguished by its remarkable provenance, having been acquired from Jackson Pollock by the photographer Hans Namuth. Namuth had first approached Pollock on July 1, 1950, at an exhibition of local artists at Guild Hall in East Hampton, NY. Over the next several months, Namuth took over five hundred photographs of the artist. These photographs are not only famous for their ability to capture a moment in time, but also helped transform Pollock “into the first media-driven superstar of American Contemporary art,” the critic Ferdinand Protzman wrote in The Washington Post in 1999. “The pictures also gave Namuth the mission he'd sought: recording the great contemporary masters at work” (F. Protzman, “The Photographer’s Snap Judgment,” The Washington Post, May 23, 1999).

Namuth’s photographs were later published in the legendary ArtNews article “Pollock Paints a Picture,” in May of 1951, which helped solidify Pollock’s role as the reigning master of Contemporary American art. Namuth also produced two 35mm films of Pollock at work—one of them uniquely positioned beneath a pane of glass to capture the drip technique from a unique vantage point. Namuth’s photographs of Pollock increased the artist’s recognition and led to a greater understanding of his work and techniques. It was Namuth's images that changed art and art history, the renowned art historian Barbara Rose declared in Pollock Painting, the book of Namuth’s photographs published in 1980, by showcasing “the process of art-making -- instead of on the static object” (B. Rose, ed., Pollock Painting, Photographs by Hans Namuth, New York, 1980).

Whereas Pollock’s earlier drawings used enamel paint on paper, the 1951 works incorporated the more traditional materials of watercolor and ink, albeit applied in an unorthodox fashion. Pollock’s thickly blotted line and serendipitous paint splatters were often the result of his use of a syringe-like implement to apply the ink, which undoubtedly afforded him equal parts chance and control, which is accentuated by the uneven surface of the paper support and its raw, deckled edges. In Untitled, the intuitiveness of his gesture and the directness of the medium work in concert together. The resulting image exemplifies Pollock’s drawings of this era, one that “oscillates between abstraction and a renewed figuration; ink and paint; paper and unprimed canvas; a bridging language with the capacity to ‘disturb’ as much as soothe” (S. Straine, “Beyond Work: Pollock Drawing,” in G. Delahunty, ed., Jackson Pollock: Blind Spots, exh. cat., Tate Liverpool and Dallas Museum of Art, 2015, p. 105).

For much of his career, Pollock's financial constraints often necessitated the use of non-traditional art materials. Like Willem de Kooning, Pollock turned to enamel paints because they were far cheaper than oils, and the same holds true for his drawing materials. His chosen support was usually inexpensive and easily sourced. In 1950, that began to change, when Pollock was given a package of Japanese paper from his friend, the sculptor Tony Smith. The sumptuous quality of the imported paper, with its slightly irregular texture and handmade feel seems to have spurred Pollock on to the next round of artistic activity, and the drawings he produced—in black and colored inks—are thought to form an important, pivotal moment in the development of his career.

The unusual paper that Pollock selected for present Untitled drawing is called Howell paper, which takes its name from its maker, the artist Douglass Morse Howell, who created this particular type of paper expressly for Pollock in 1951. Each sheet of this hand-crafted paper was unique, made from pure linen that lent itself quite readily to Pollock’s blot/stain technique. “The insistent materiality of the...bespoke Howell papers used by Pollock in 1951—with their open weaves, high levels of absorbency, warm tones and irregular textures—resulted in a completely new conception of drawing for the artist,” the curator Stephanie Straine explained, writing about Pollock’s ink drawings in the Tate’s Blind Spots catalog of 2015. “The papers of 1951...work as actively and as forcefully as the ink itself. … The palpable corporeality of these papers chosen and commissioned by Pollock in this year demonstrates that the material ground was there to play its part as pointedly as his drawing medium of ink” (S. Straine, Ibid., 2015, pp. 101, 105).

A turbulent yet transformative year, 1951 would prove to be Pollock’s most important and productive year as a draughtsman. The drawings that he created during that year would play a pivotal role in his artistic development, bringing him back from an extended battle with alcoholism and the pressure of dealing with his newfound fame, to a place of reinvention and discovery.

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