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Bastille Day

Bastille Day
signed, titled and dated 'Adolph Gottlieb "BASTILLE DAY" 1961' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
48 x 72 in. (121.9 x 182.9 cm.)
Painted in 1961.
Martin Friedman, Minneapolis, gift of the artist, 1963
Pace Gallery, New York, 1992
Morton and Barbara Mandel Collection, Cleveland
Their sale; Christie's, New York, 3 December 2020, lot 106
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

Brought to you by

Kathryn Widing
Kathryn Widing Vice President, Senior Specialist, Head of 21st Century Evening Sale

Lot Essay

Two bursts of crimson and midnight black perforate a cyan sky as they drift above a deep sea of azure blue. Flying across this ultramarine skyscape, four streaks of color propel themselves towards the upper left corner of the composition, mimicking a celebratory fly over and its resulting contrails. Complementing this festive imagery, splashes of the same red, white, black, and blue appear to the lower right, a small but thrilling expression of the artistic vigor present in Adolf Gottlieb’s Bastille Day. This lively composition, complete with Gottlieb’s signature “bursts” and expert use of vivid color, evokes the jubilant energy of its title and exemplifies Gottlieb’s reputation as a master colorist.
After some time in Paris as a young man, Gottlieb developed an appreciation for French culture and festivities that would translate into his later work. In 1921, as he partook in Parisian drawing classes and frequented the Louvre, Gottlieb likely also experienced a Bastille Day celebration. This holiday, occurring annually on July 14th, is the anniversary of the storming of the bastille in 1789, a pivotal moment in the French Revolution that would come to symbolize the freedom and unity of the nation. This massive celebration includes a military parade, fireworks, and a flyover of jets releasing red, white, and blue contrails in an homage to the French flag. Gottlieb’s Bastille Day, painted 30 years after his brief stint in Paris, plays with the imagery of this iconic French celebration, merging national colors and symbols with his own distinguished bursts.
A seminal component of his reputable career, Gottlieb’s burst paintings truly solidified the artist’s place in the canon of art history. Conceived of after the horrors of World War II, these iconic works of Gottlieb’s utilize abstraction as a means of conveying the complex and confusing emotions of a post-war world. Often toying with contrasting colors and textures, Gottlieb’s works from this period embrace the avant-garde scene that was in full force around him, while maintaining a style distinctive to himself. Of his work from this era Gottlieb has said “Everything is part of nature. Even painting has become part of nature. To clarify further: I don’t have an ideological approach or a doctrinaire approach to my work. I just paint from my personal feelings, and my reflexes and instincts. I have to trust these” (A. Gottlieb, quoted in J. Gruen, The Party’s Over Now: Reminiscences of the Fifties, New York, 1967).
Radiating with an intensity surpassing their painted edges, the two bursts of Bastille Day are poignant examples of Gottlieb’s ability to play with color, which could only come through years of dedicated and thoughtful painting experience. Containing multitudes within a single shade, these burgundy and noir bursts, as well as Gottlieb’s larger oeuvre of burst works, are reminiscent of Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman, and other of Gottlieb’s contemporaries noted for their mastery of color. Gottlieb masterfully combines his signature bursts with imagery evocative of a jet place within the gestural ultramarine field. A uniquely lively and compositionally intriguing display of Gottlieb’s distinctive forms, Bastille Day reflects the artist’s individual artistic approach, while also exemplifying his significant position within the roster of contemporary masters of abstraction.

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