PHILIP GUSTON (1913-1980)
PHILIP GUSTON (1913-1980)
PHILIP GUSTON (1913-1980)
PHILIP GUSTON (1913-1980)
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PHILIP GUSTON (1913-1980)


PHILIP GUSTON (1913-1980)
oil on paper mounted on panel
30 7⁄8 x 40 ¼in. (78.5 x 102.2cm.)
Executed in 1963
Estate of Philip Guston.
Hauser & Wirth.
Private Collection (acquired from the above in 2016).
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2019.
The Guston Foundation, The Philip Guston Catalogue Raisonné, digital, ongoing, no. P63.008 (illustrated in colour).
New York, Hauser & Wirth, Philip Guston: Painter 1957-1967, 2016 (illustrated in colour, p. 77).
Further Details
The Guston Foundation confirms that this lot will be included in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné of the paintings of Philip Guston.

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Lot Essay

Created in 1963, Untitled stands at the turning point between Philip Guston’s abstract practice of the previous decade and the figurative works that would come to define his career. Using black pigment, Guston has filled the large surface with gestural, emotive brushwork. To the paint he added white, which tempered and partially erased the blackness beneath to produce soft greys, alongside radiant passages of pale pink, orange and blue. Emerging from this web of dynamic brushstrokes is a suggestive, block-shaped form, a recurrent motif for Guston throughout the early 1960s. Coming at the tail end of the artist’s exploration of abstraction, these paintings were understood to depict heads or solid objects; they were, in short, decidedly figurative. Now considered to mark a crucial moment in the artist’s career, the ‘dark pictures’ were given prominent attention at Guston’s triumphant recent retrospective, which toured the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and Tate Modern, London.

These largely monochrome paintings, shot through with hints of glowing colour, serve as both the coda to Guston’s foray into abstraction and the return to his figurative practice, presaging the cartoonish characters he would soon use to address the world’s injustices. Following his careful study of artists such as Paul Cezanne, Fernand Léger and Pablo Picasso, as well as the Old Masters, Guston had abandoned figuration in the late 1940s. At the moment when Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman, and other Colour Field painters were in ascension, Guston, too, was embraced, joining the Sidney Janis Gallery, home to all the major Abstract Expressionists, in 1955. But where many of these artists aimed for ethereality in paint, Guston still felt tied to the concrete world. Realising that he missed ‘recognisable objects’, at the close of the decade he moved away from his delicate, gridded compositions towards something solid and more substantial (P. Guston quoted in H. Cooper, ‘Guston, Then: Telling Tales’, in Philip Guston Now, exh. cat. National Gallery of Art, Washington 2020, p. 45).

Following his 1962 travelling retrospective organised by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Guston took a hiatus from painting, only revisiting the medium when he began the ‘dark pictures.’ Once he returned to his brushes and pigments, he started to paint with new urgency, employing the wet-on-wet technique so as to limit the time spent on each composition. ‘As I work I find I get involved with an image—and I begin to concentrate on that in a way that I didn’t before', he explained. 'It’s there the colour disappears’ (P. Guston quoted in ‘Conversation with Bill Berkson’, 1964, in C. Coolidge (ed.), Philip Guston: Collected Writings, Letters, and Conversations, Berkeley 2011, p. 32). Continuing a long tradition of monochromatic painting, Guston elected to restrict his colour palette, believing that such restraint would shift his attention towards other pictorial nuances. In doing so, a new tactility materialised in his work. Even as Guston saw his greys as an act of erasure, he simultaneously built up thick layers of paint, and out of this impasto surface, dark heads revealed themselves.

Although still reliant on some of the technical strategies of the Abstract Expressionists—bold, painterly gestures and dense, agitated brushwork—Guston’s new canvases were a far cry from his earlier output. The darker tonalities coupled with the weightiness of Untitled offer a profound counterpoint to his earlier diaphanous, colourful grids. Then there is the head, a distinctly anti-abstract presence, which enabled Guston to make visible his sudden ‘urge’ for images. It was this emergent figuration, finally, that would fuel the magisterial last two decades of his work. As the artist reflected, ‘I think that probably the most potent desire for a painter, an image-maker, is to see … what the mind can think and imagine, to realise it for oneself, through oneself, as concretely as possible’ (P. Guston, ‘Talk at “Art / Not Art” Conference’, March 1978, in op. cit., 2011, p. 281).

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