PHILIP GUSTON (1913-1980)
PHILIP GUSTON (1913-1980)
PHILIP GUSTON (1913-1980)
PHILIP GUSTON (1913-1980)
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Property from a Prestigious American Collection
PHILIP GUSTON (1913-1980)

The Clock II

PHILIP GUSTON (1913-1980)
The Clock II
signed 'Philip Guston' (lower left); signed again, titled and dated 'PHILIP GUSTON "THE CLOCK II" 1957' (on the reverse)
oil on illustration board mounted on Masonite
24 5/8 x 35 ¾ in. (62.5 x 90.8 cm.)
Painted in 1957.
Sidney Janis Gallery, New York
Eric Estorick, London, circa 1959-1962
Anon. sale; Sotheby's, New York, 13 November 1980, lot 29
Acquavella Galleries, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1983
P. G. Pavia, ed., It Is: A Magazine for Abstract Art, no. 2, Autumn 1958, p. 7, pl. 2 (illustrated as The Clock).
D. Ashton, Philip Guston, New York, 1960, p. 40 (illustrated).
W. Berkson, "Philip Guston: A New Emphasis," Arts Magazine, vol. 64, no. 10, February 1966, pp. 15-18.
F. O'Hara, "Growth and Guston," Art Chronicles 1954-1966, New York, 1975, p. 139.
D. Ashton, Yes, But...: A Critical Study of Philip Guston, New York, 1976, p. 113.
The Guston Foundation, The Philip Guston Catalogue Raisonné, digital, ongoing, no. P57.005 (illustrated).
New York, Sidney Janis Gallery, Philip Guston, February-March 1958.
Museu de Arte Moderna de São Paulo, V Biennial: Estados Unidos, 1959, September-December 1959, no. 13.
New York, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum; Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum; London, Whitechapel Gallery; Brussels, Palais des Beaux-Arts and Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Philip Guston, May 1962-June 1963, pp. 29 and 42, no. 37.
New York, Acquavella Galleries, XIX & XX Century Master Paintings, October-November 1981, p. 43, no. 20 (illustrated).

Brought to you by

Isabella Lauria
Isabella Lauria Vice President, Senior Specialist, Head of 21st Century Evening Sale

Lot Essay

A crescendo of jewel tones, Philip Guston’s The Clock II (1957) embodies the depth of artistry that made Guston a celebrated American painter. With a storied history, this particular work uses the recurring motif of a clock to highlight a pivotal moment in Guston’s career, one where he existed within a liminal realm of both abstraction and representation. An emotive discord between idea and form, The Clock II typifies the visual emotion and drama emblematic of the Abstract Expressionists of the Postwar era.

Largely self-taught, Guston began his artistic career in the 1930s and 1940s like many of his New York peers in the budding postwar art movement—as a muralist for the Works Progress Administration (WPA). Inspired by the Italian Renaissance, Guston’s early works and murals embodied the style of symbolic or social realism, meant to boost morale in the Depression era of the United States. However, as the WPA dissolved, he retreated from a public style of representational painting, instead favoring a more introspective exploration of abstraction.

Throughout the 1950s, Guston established himself as a founding member of the New York School movement of Abstract Expressionism. Featured in the famed Ninth Street Show of 1951, Guston was a mainstay alongside his friends and contemporaries such as Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning and Mark Rothko. However, unlike Pollock and fellow Abstract Expressionist Franz Kline, Guston shied away from emotional splatters and strong lines, instead choosing to focus on form—a theme that would develop well into the later years of his career.

Clocks and watch faces were a recurring motif for Guston through the second half of the 20th century. With an interest in the passage of time, Guston was able to use the clock as an expressive means to explore such interest. “In these abstractions the visibly varying page of execution—patient rumination, followed by a flurry of decisive gestures and then a pause for reconsideration before the process resumes—tells us how time has passed for the painter, how he had chosen to spend that precious commodity, and how viewers might apportion their attention in corresponding measure” (R. Storr, Philip Guston: A Life Spent Painting, London, 2020, p. 64).

“…nothing is ever solved in painting. It's a continuous chain that sometimes doesn't go in one line, but goes in a serpentine line or in crooked paths, detours, which have to be investigated” (P. Guston).

Painted in 1957, The Clock II was created at the tail end of Guston’s exploration in abstraction—a pivotal moment that would mark the mid-point of Guston’s storied oeuvre. With its complete lack of figuration, The Clock II combines color and texture to capture the intangible and ambiguous. Amidst a stoking of philosophical boundaries, a tension emerges between an idealized form—the clock—and actuality—complete scrutiny of the pictorial image. Towards the upper register of the painting, three lines in orange are the only semblance of a clock’s hands. Such deconstruction of familiarity creates an emotional dissonance, further pushing scrutiny of the image. Intense and powerful, such spatial and compositional ambiguity evokes a sense of indeterminacy and, in turn, the imperceptible nature of time itself.

The Clock II is representative of Guston’s works from the later 1950s, all of which were darker, more anxious and gestural in nature, influenced by the somber, existential philosophies of Franz Kafka and Jean-Paul Sartre. A year earlier, between 1956 and 1957, Guston painted The Clock, a towering work on canvas over six feet tall. The Clock, as the predecessor to the more intimate present work, currently resides in the New York Museum of Modern Art’s permanent collection as an example of Guston’s oeuvre at this seminal point of his career. With its smaller scale, The Clock II opposes the large expanses of canvas emblematic of Abstract Expressionists. Instead, The Clock II showcases a more personal example of Guston’s style, in which he works small to envelop himself in his works. Working brushstroke by brushstroke, Guston gradually arrives at a dense and shadowed drama that reels in the viewer.

From 1959 to 1962, the present work was housed in the collection of Eric Estorick, an American art dealer, collector and author living in London. A trained sociologist, Estorick was introduced to the arts through his close relationship with American photographer, Alfred Stieglitz. As prices for art began falling in the aftermath of World War II, Estorick became an art dealer, buying works by Picasso, Braque, Gris and Leger and selling them in Hollywood. As his success grew, so did his personal art collection. Estorick eventually founded the Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art in London in 1998.

Whilst a part of the Estorick Collection, The Clock II was included in a notable exhibition—his own major retrospective in 1962 at the Guggenheim Museum, which also traveled to Amsterdam, London, Brussels and Los Angeles. The 1960s marked a period of social, political and cultural upheaval in the United States. As the art world around Guston turned towards commercialization and Pop Art, Guston looked the other way. His major retrospective brought together his early representational paintings alongside his abstract line drawings and paintings. An emphasis was placed on Guston’s more recent abstract paintings, highlighting the new resolution Guston was able to achieve by separating figure and ground to focus on block-like forms and amorphous shapes. In this retrospective, The Clock II was featured alongside The Clock as exemplary of Guston’s smaller oil explorations.

“Guston’s temperament is not a political one. His natural bent is toward sensitivity and elegance, toward the artistic, though with a conscious, strong-minded resolve to resist facility and seductive painting” (H. Rosenberg, The De-Definition of Art, Chicago, 1972 p. 138).

However, amidst the impasto and brushstrokes, The Clock II hints at the murmurings of Guston’s return to representational painting. Painted at the precipice, The Clock II marks a seminal transition for Guston from celebrated abstractionist to representational painter. By the late 1960s, just a few years after The Clock II was painted, Guston would go on to define his own neo-expressionist style of art, blurring the line between abstraction and figuration. It was in this style of cartoon-inspired realism that Guston created his famous paintings of hooded figures, human forms, and other quotidian objects.

Like its predecessor, The Clock II embodies a sense of exploration in color, texture and form that was a hallmark of the Postwar-era Abstract Expressionists. With its extensive publication and exhibition history, The Clock II highlights the storied style of Philip Guston through his recurring clock motif, while situating him within a seminal period in postwar and contemporary art history.

“Usually I am on a work for a long stretch, until a moment arrives when the air of the arbitrary vanishes, and the paint falls into positions that feel destined” (P. Guston).

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