Philip Guston (1913-1980)
Property from the Collection of Ann and Graham Gund
Philip Guston (1913-1980)

The Day

Philip Guston (1913-1980)
The Day
signed, titled and dated 'Philip Guston The Day 1964' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
77 x 80 in. (195.5 x 203.2 cm.)
Painted in 1964.
Marlborough Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner, June 1969
S. Hunter and J. Jacobus, American Art of the Twentieth Century, New York, 1969, p. 237, no. 431 (illustrated in color).
M. W. Brown, T. C. Brakeley, et. al., American Art, New York, 1979, p. 491, no. 526 (illustrated).
Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Phillip Guston, February-March 1967.
Cambridge, Harvard University, Fogg Art Museum, June 1970.
Boston, Institute of Contemporary Art, A Selection of American Art: The Skowhegan School 1946-76, May-November 1976.
Boston, Federal Reserve Bank, New England Connections: An Exhibition of Paintings and Drawings, November 1978-January 1979.
Boston, Museum of Fine Arts, A Private Vision: Contemporary Art from the Graham Gund Collection, February-April 1982, p. 93 (illustrated in color).
Boston, Museum of Fine Arts, Reflections of Monet, September 1998-January 1999.

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Jennifer Yum
Jennifer Yum

Lot Essay

Philip Guston ranks among the very greatest of the members of the first generation of Abstract Expressionists, alongside Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning. He accomplished brilliant work in the language of abstract painting, evident in the current lot. “Perhaps because of his rigorous, self-taught understanding of the traditional genres, Guston came to abstraction slightly late in the game. When he did so, however, he created an imagery that was as complex and powerful as any works produced under the sign of Abstract Expressionism. Indeed, Guston’s abstractions remain one of the best-kept secrets of that groundbreaking movement and one of the least understood aspects of the artist’s development.” (P. Guston and M. Auping, Philip Guston Retrospective, Fort Worth, Texas, 2003, p. 18).

The current lot, entitled The Day, is one of a series of oil paintings representing the height of Guston’s late period abstractions, a culmination of his abstract painting accomplishments, achieved during the first half of the 1960s and occurring between two major exhibitions: a mid-career retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum and a major exhibition at the Jewish Museum in New York. This was a fascinating moment in his career, representing a turning point before Guston moved on to his late period representational art, beginning near the end of the 1960s.

The Day is suffused with smoky gray and black tonalities, the gray and black overlaying dusky pink, red, purple, and blue shades along the margins of the canvas. Critics have described the visual effect of the lighter colors in the paintings from this body of work as seeming to condense into smoke, the smoke, in turn, seeming to solidify into stone. “Forms become fewer and denser, hanging together in clumps of two or three…They are writhing masses of thick black strokes, congealed by their own weight.” (Dore Ashton, A Critical Study of Philip Guston, New York, 1976, p. 130).

The dark shapes making up the central portion of The Day are suggestive of powerful, brooding monolithic forms. “Intriguing,” “moody,” “prophetic,” “soulful,” and “revelatory” are words that have been used to describe this body of work. Guston chose to leave unpainted the primed canvas at the edges of this work and of other paintings in this series. “Perhaps (Guston) needed to witness clearly the image rising out of the most fundamental conditions: willful marks on a canvas stretched over wooden sticks. Yet he portrays this conjuring form in a magical fashion.” (P. Guston and M. Auping, Philip Guston Retrospective, Fort Worth, Texas, 2003, pp. 50-51).

Guston was one of those rare, exceptional artists who were able to accomplish a successful transition from an intense focus and immersion in one particular style to another, very different style. “If (Jackson) Pollock pioneered the way into Abstract Expressionism, it was Guston who was most suited to lead the way out.” (P. Guston and M. Auping, Philip Guston Retrospective, Fort Worth, Texas, 2003, p. 52). For Guston, the shift was a move away from the language of painterly abstraction and toward that of figural representation. The artist did not achieve the transition, however, without considerable struggle, both aesthetically and personally.

That struggle is apparent in The Day and in the other canvases Guston completed during this time, and this, together with the painting’s status as an important milestone representing the artist’s development, are qualities that make the work so compelling. “In their size, the uncompromising washed-out blue and gun-metal grays, the poise of their monoliths, there is something undeniably attractive to these works. As caps to a life in art, the harrowed, chthonic statements are powerful, penultimately pure...Like Rothko’s forbidding last paintings, the purity consoles even as it frightens.” (P. Guston, Philip Guston, New York, 1980, p. 20). Art critic Michael Kimmelman noted of the Guston paintings of this period that, “(t)he next decade (i.e., the 1960s), leading up to the late work, is Guston's most underrated and revelatory. Full of grays and black, skittering, searching squiggles approximating grids, these soulful abstractions search out shapes they can't yet define.” (M. Kimmelman, “Anxious Liberator Of an Era's Demons,” The New York Times, October 31, 2003).

Philip Guston exhibited widely, participated in numerous major group and solo museum exhibitions, and is represented in significant museum collections both in the United States and internationally. His work was included in the “12 Americans” show organized by The Museum of Modern Art, New York in 1956; in “The New American Painting,” 1958, organized by the International Council of the Museum of Modern Art; in the 1960 XXX Biennale Internazionale d’Arte, Venice, Italy. He was the subject of a mid-career retrospective in 1962, hosted by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, a late career retrospective in 1980 hosted by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and a posthumous retrospective in 2003 organized by the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth.


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