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The Ann and Gordon Getty Collection

Number 28, 1949

Number 28, 1949
signed and dated 'Jackson Pollock 49' (lower left)
enamel on canvas mounted on Masonite
12 7/8 x 13 in. (32.5 x 33 cm.)
Painted in 1949.
Betty Parsons Gallery, New York
Abbott Kimball, New York, 1949
Ann K. Andresen, New Canaan, by descent from the above
Anon. sale; Sotheby's, New York, 5 November 1985, lot 34
Ann and Gordon Getty, acquired at the above sale
Gift from the above to the Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation for the Arts
Jackson Pollock, exh. cat., Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1967, p. 48.
D. Bannard, "Cubism, Abstract Expressionism, David Smith", Artforum 6, no. 8, April 1968, p. 28 (illustrated).
F.V. O'Connor and E.V. Thaw, Jackson Pollock: A Catalogue Raisonné of Paintings, Drawings and Other Works, Volume 2, Paintings, 1948-1955, New Haven, 1978, p. 42, no. 218 (illustrated).
New York, Betty Parsons Gallery, Jackson Pollock, November-December 1949.

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

Lot Essay

Exhibited in the artist’s iconic breakthrough show at Betty Parsons Gallery in November of 1949, and coming directly from the esteemed collection of Ann and Gordon Getty, with all proceeds benefiting the family's philanthropic foundation for arts and science organisations, Jackson Pollock’s Number 28, 1949, represents a body of work that defined the artist’s career and propelled him into great acclaim. Works from this year are considered to be some of the most radical of the 20th century, as Pollock boldly challenged the boundaries of painting, defining 1949 as one of the most crucial years of the artist’s career. Critics described the paintings exhibited at Betty Parson’s Gallery as “the best painting he has yet done” (R. M. Coates, The New Yorker, December 3, 1949). Rare to the public market, the present example is one of an extremely fine group of twenty-two drip paintings that Pollock completed on canvas in 1949, of which more than half of the examples can be found in institutional collections such as the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the Yale University Art Gallery and the Museum of Fine Arts Boston. Prominent in its historical significance, artistic innovation, and stellar provenance, Number 28, 1949, captures every best part of Jackson Pollock’s genius.
“Color is Pollock’s forte,” wrote Stuart Preston, the New York Times art critic, in his review of the Betty Parsons exhibit that included Number 28, 1949. “In the dense web of paint that weaves back and forth it is remarkable how the silvers, blacks, whites and yellows stand on their own” (S. Preston, “Abstract Quartet: Late Work by Kandinsky, Pollock and Others,” New York Times, November 27, 1949, p. 12X). The foundation of Number 28, 1949 is a delicate conversation of palettes between primary hues and a cutting black paint. Here, Pollock applies the paint quickly, introducing new drips before the already painted passages have had the chance to dry. The result are several passages where the pigments merge and contort into one another in a celestial dance. As the cadmium green painted passaged spill into their surrounding pigments, they break off into a fanned network of tiny channels akin to those found at the mouth of a river. Similarly, as the orange alkyd enamel settles onto the canvas, it bleeds into the black glossy paint, eliciting the image of magma breaking through the scorched earth. Upon close inspection, there are a few drips of silver paint that cut through the picture whose pigmentation is crisper than the fibers of the raw canvas. The presence of the white paint is a reminder of the canvas’ bareness, its role as a void upon which the paint may twist and turn. Though this is a work of abstraction, Pollock achieves a distinctly compositional quality, as each splatter line, amorphous and spidery, intertwines to form the appearance of figures in motion. Perhaps these figures are engaged in an emphatic dance; their limbs stretched, each color floating in a circular embrace. Passages of rippling are frequent, giving the paint the appearance of tidal waves. In every respect, there is an inherent movement to this painting. Between the artist’s working method, the interactions between each painted passage, and the material qualities of the medium itself, energy is at the fore.
Pollock expands on this project of radicalizing painting with his embrace of the bare canvas; while traditionally artists would paint atop coated surfaces for the sake of visual cohesion, he allows his foundation to remain vulnerably bare. On an open canvas, there is a clear visual distinction between the support and the paint on top of it; it is a difference that is materially unreconcilable. Like the stage for a play, the unpainted canvas exposes painting for what it is: a construction, a mere performance of one’s visual imagination. While Pollock’s paint is hyperactive, bouncing erratically, his canvas, rendered in an intimate scale, is uniquely stagnant which allows all of the viewers’ attention to be spent on the paint and how it interacts with itself. In the words of The New York Times’ co-chief art critic of Roberta Smith “Pollock is seen working at full strength, building his lines into his entrancing, trademark all-over compositions. On such an intimate scale, it is especially easy to grasp the individual shifts in rhythm, gesture, color and paint thickness that orchestrate the final image.” (R. Smith, “An Expanded Sense of Pollock’s Vision,” The New York Times, October 22, 1993, p. C26).
Unlike any artist before him, Pollock made a concerted and daring effort to physically remove himself and his hand from the canvas, employing non-tactical methods of painting to bring the medium to the canvas. As Pollock himself explained in 1947-48 “My painting does not come from the easel. I hardly ever stretch my canvas before painting. I prefer to tack the unstretched canvas to the hard wall or the floor. I need the resistance of a hard surface. On the floor I am more at ease. I feel nearer, more a part of the painting, since this way I can walk around it, work from the four sides and literally be in the painting. This is akin to the method of the Indian sand painters of the West. I continue to get further away from the usual painter's tools such as easel, palette, brushes, etc. I prefer sticks, trowels, knives and dripping fluid paint or a heavy impasto with sand, broken glass and other foreign matter added. When I am in my painting, I'm not aware of what I'm doing. It is only after a sort of 'get acquainted' period that I see what I have been about. I have no fears about making changes, destroying the image, etc, because the painting has a life of its own. I try to let it come through. It is only when I lose contact with the painting that the result is a mess. Otherwise there is pure harmony, an easy give and take, and the painting comes out well" (J. Pollock, 'My Painting,' Possibilities I, New York, Winter 1947-48.)
This direct and liberated engagement with his materials welcomed gravity, velocity, and improvisation into Pollock’s artistic practice, and his lack of compositional aspiration allowed his lines and colors to act independent of defined form. A key factor of Pollock’s genius is the confidence he places in his medium; in surrendering his control over the precise aesthetics of his canvas, Pollock introduces chance as a primary medium, allowing for a process-based means of creating akin to that of automatic or subconscious painting as was popularized by Surrealism. In returning to the pillars of Surrealism – a rejection of realism in favor of the fantastical mind – and harnessing the explosive freedom of Abstract Expressionism, Pollock innovated like no other artist had done before. While the masters of art history may have relied on aesthetic perfection and tactical precision, Pollock opted for the opposite, or rather chose to place no emphasis on the formal metrics of artistic excellence. Pollock’s disordered lines and nonsensical paint blots were the exact product of Pollock’s innovation in painting, turning the medium on its head to make paintings about paint.
1949 was a knockout year for Pollock, highlighted by his famed feature in LIFE Magazine which begged the question: “Is he the greatest living painter in the United States?” Few were asking that question following the release of the article, with the notoriety of the magazine skyrocketing Pollock into stardom against its original intent to mock his output. Though the article poked fun at his new innovations in paint application - going as far as to describe his method as ‘drooling’ paint on the canvas, and claiming that some found his work ‘as unpalatable as yesterday’s macaroni’ – he became a near overnight sensation. The magazine had framed Pollock as fresh, bold and controversial; the provocative nature of his alien compositions posited him as the pulse of Post War American art. Three months later, Pollock’s show at the Betty Parsons Gallery was welcomed with immense laudation and celebratory buzz. It was during this time that renowned critic Clement Greenberg stated that Pollock’s smaller works were “among the strongest abstract paintings [he had] yet seen by an American.” Peggy Guggenheim claimed she spotted Pollock’s potential early on, as she wrote in her autobiography: “When I first exhibited Pollock, he was very much under the influence of the Surrealists and of Picasso. But he very soon overcame this influence, to become, strangely enough, the greatest painter since Picasso” (P. Guggenheim, quoted by D. Wigal, Pollock: Veiling the Image, New York, 2011, p. 116). The present example is a physical relic of this national explosion of praise, carrying with it a legacy of art made during a time when nothing comparable had been done before. Number 28, 1949 is an icon of an artistic revolution that defines the fabric of American art today.

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