MARK TOBEY (1890-1976)
MARK TOBEY (1890-1976)
MARK TOBEY (1890-1976)
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MARK TOBEY (1890-1976)
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A Century of Art: The Gerald Fineberg Collection
MARK TOBEY (1890-1976)

Burst of Spring

Details
MARK TOBEY (1890-1976)
Burst of Spring
signed, inscribed and dated 'Tobey 64 Bâle' (lower right)
tempera, wax crayon and graphite on paper
45 1/2 x 24 3/4 in. (115.5 x 62.8 cm.)
Painted in 1964.
Provenance
Otto Seligman Gallery, Seattle
Mr. and Mrs. Arthur L. Dahl, Pebble Beach
Mr. and Mrs. Sheffield Phelps, Seattle
Private collection, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Literature
H. J. Weeks, "Pacific Heritage," Artforum, vol. 3, no. 8, May 1965, p. 50.
H. Haggie, "Tobey Collection Beautiful, Serene in Tasteful Setting," The Lincoln Star, 10 September 1967, p. 64.
M. Tobey and A. Dahl, Mark Tobey: Art and Belief, Norway, 1984, pp. 31 and 118, no. 10 (illustrated).
Exhibited
Los Angeles, Municipal Art Gallery, Pacific Heritage, March-April 1965, n.p., no. 6 (illustrated).
Palo Alto, Stanford University Art Gallery; Lincoln, University of Nebraska Art Gallery; Chicago, Roosevelt University Art Gallery; University of California Santa Barbara Art Gallery, Mark Tobey: Paintings from the Collection of Joyce and Arthur Dahl, June-October 1967, pp. 23 and 44, no. 55, pl. 25 (illustrated).
Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, Mark Tobey Retrospective, March-April 1968, no. 111.
Seattle, Foster/White Gallery, Mark Tobey, May 1973, n.p., no. FW27 (illustrated).
New York, Pace Gallery, Mark Tobey, October 2018-January 2019, n.p., no. 66 (illustrated).
Further details
Achim Moeller, Managing Principal of the Mark Tobey Project LLC, has confirmed the authenticity. The work is registered in the Mark Tobey archive with the number MT [396-04-07-23].

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Lot Essay

Painted just three years after the artist’s critically acclaimed 1961 retrospective at the Louvre in Paris, Burst of Spring is an illustration of Mark Tobey’s ability to combine global attitudes and traditions in a mode developed during the early stages of Abstract Expressionism. An undoubted source of inspiration for stalwart artists like Jackson Pollock, Tobey’s technical ability and thirst for creative awakening took him around the world. The gallerist Sidney Janis spoke about the divide between Tobey and those members of the New York School that were working simultaneously, noting, “Here it is presumably different from psychic automation in [that] it is essentially under conscious direction” (S. Janis, quoted in D. B. Balken, “Mark Tobey: Life Tracks in the Snow”, Mark Tobey: Threading Light, New York, 2017, p. 18). Instead of embracing chance and vigorous gesture, Tobey’s practice was meditative and rooted in a study of calligraphy and adherence to his own Bahaï faith which highlighted unity and progression among other ideas.

Oriented vertically like a hanging scroll, Burst of Spring is an optically-dense composition that maintains and builds upon many of the painterly refinements Tobey began his innovations after his time abroad. The background is a multilayered explosion of color with warm peaches and reds punctuated by jewel-like blues and areas of dark pigment. Over the top of this riot of tones, Tobey has applied a close-knit layer of translucent white brushstrokes that allow some of the underlayers through while obscuring others. Like a snakeskin or a layer of frost melting with the first thaw of spring, Tobey’s use of white extends from his more calligraphic mode in earlier works into a thicker, warmer application that bubbles outward to meet the viewer.

A lifelong traveler, Tobey’s journeys around the world had a profound influence on his work. Originally from Wisconsin, he lived for a time in Chicago, New York, and taught for many years at the Cornish School in Seattle. Burst of Spring was painted after the artist moved to Basel, Switzerland in 1960 where he would live for the rest of his life. In between these geographic mainstays, he took long trips to Europe and Asia where he was significantly influenced by traditional art forms and the evolution of art as Modernism pervaded the West. Of particular interest was Chinese calligraphy, a practice he had first been introduced to by the painter Deng Kui in 1923 while living in Seattle. In the 1930s, Tobey visited China and Japan where he again studied with Deng and stayed at a Zen Buddhist monastery. Upon his return to the United States, the artist blended the motion and vigor he found in the New York urban space with teachings he had learned abroad. This led to a technique he referred to as ‘white writing’ which was characterized by calligraphic, non-representational brushwork rendered in mainly white paint on various backgrounds.

Though their careers overlapped in geography and time, Tobey’s path to abstraction was decidedly different than his contemporaries in the New York School. While they looked toward the inimitable gesture and highlighted the hand of the artist as a purveyor of action and chance encounters, Tobey approached painting in a more methodical, intimate mode. As is evident in Burst of Spring, each brushstroke is carefully studied and placed in accordance with those around it. Developing a system of order in the chaos of modern life, Tobey was influenced by the cities he lived in and visited yet had a reaction at odds with the artists who embraced the commotion. He noted that the metropolis figured into his vocabulary “because I am an American painter. I cannot be indifferent to the swarming crowds, multitudes, neon signs, movie theaters, to the noises that I hate of modern cities.” (M. Tobey, quoted in W. C. Seitz, Mark Tobey, exh. cat., Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1962, pp. 15-16). By channeling all of this energy through himself and his brush, Tobey was able to control the dizzying pace of modern life and create paintings that exude a semblance of much-needed calm.

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