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La Rêverie: The Collection of Sydell Miller

Gray Shadows

Gray Shadows
signed, titled and dated twice 'Adolph Gottlieb 1972 "Gray Shadows" 1972' (on the reverse)
acrylic on canvas
48 x 60 in. (121.9 x 152.4 cm.)
Painted in 1972.
Private collection, Texas, gift of the artist, 1972
Anon. sale; Christie's, New York, 12 May 1998, lot 46
Gasiunasen Gallery, Palm Beach
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1998

Brought to you by

Rachael White Young
Rachael White Young Associate Vice President, Specialist, Co-Head of Day Sale

Lot essay

Sydell Miller, together with her late husband Arnold Miller, was the founder of Matrix Essentials Inc, which became the largest manufacturer of professional hair and beauty products in America. After Mr. Miller died in 1992 Sydell Miller took the helm alone, pushing the company to new heights, selling the business in 1994 to Bristol Myers Squibb and retiring in 1996 to devote herself to her family and to Philanthropy. Chief amongst Mrs. Miller’s causes is the Cleveland Clinic where the Sydell and Arnold Miller Family Pavilion houses the Miller Family Heart, Vascular and Thoracic Institute. In addition to being celebrated as a Philanthropist Mrs. Miller is also recognized as a major collector of both Fine and Decorative Arts which were housed in her sumptuous home in Palm Beach, La Rêverie. The current sales, to be held during the New York 20/21 Marquee Sales on May 12 through the 14th will offer a selection of Fine Art including paintings and sculpture by Joan Miro, Joan Mitchell Jean Dubuffet and other masters while a further sale on June 10th will incorporate a selection of superb Eighteenth Century French Furniture and Decorations, alongside Art Deco and Contemporary design including a rare Elephants table by Francois-Xavier Lalanne. The Furniture, so skillfully installed at La Rêverie is united by it’s reflection of the avant-garde taste of both the Eighteenth century and of the Twentieth Century. The sale also includes a number of pieces of furniture supplied by Peter Marino Architect who worked with Mrs. Miller on the house and it’s interiors. Built as a family home and much loved La Rêverie has now been sold and Mrs. Miller has now moved on to the adventure of a new home, leaving this part of her collection for others to enjoy and looking forward to new adventures.

I want to express the utmost intensity of the color, bring out the quality, make it expressive…so that it exists as sensation and a feeling that it will carry nuances not necessarily inherent in the color, which are brought out by juxtaposition.”

Adolph Gottlieb

Painted in 1972, Adolph Gottlieb’s Gray Shadows demonstrates the artist's highest accomplishment in deploying his visual vocabulary into an emotive and inspiring image, while representing his artistic freedom as a mature painter. In the present work, Gottlieb’s two most iconic visual motifs—suspended orbs and calligraphic strokes—divide the canvas into two registers, while the phantasmal gray fields of paint form an enigmatic correlation in-between. Within such a profoundly refined arrangement, the artist achieves an unparalleled balance between color as sensation and form touch.

Favoring organic form over geometric precision, three boldly painted orbs float atop an expansive white picture plane. The color palette Gottlieb deliberately chose for them—soft orange, dense black, and warm peach—are akin to that of a sunset landscape. Always preoccupied with color, he admits, “I want to express the utmost intensity of the color, bring out the quality, make it expressive…so that it exists as sensation and a feeling that it will carry nuances not necessarily inherent in the color, which are brought out by juxtaposition” (A. Gottlieb, quoted in R. Doty and D. Waldman, Adolph Gottlieb, exh. cat., The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 1968, p. 21). Unlike in other similar paintings by Gottlieb, where spheres glow with white halos, those in Gray Shadows are contoured by gray paint as if each cast a shadow onto the surface. On the lower part, a tangle of black strands and drops whirls over, among which three powerful calligraphic strokes stand out. These black marks lie upon a field of gray painted with continuous vertical brushstrokes that extends upwards until it meets the three hovering orbs and merges into their outlines of the same hue.

The scrawls and speckles of gray are some of the most absorbing features in Gray Shadows. They trace and conform to the disparate energy in the two terrains: the calmness and purity of the solar area versus the anguish and complexity of the calligraphic script. Though named as “shadows,” they suggest no perspective space or three-dimensionality. In contrast, they contribute to the intricate figure-ground relationship that sustains the flatness and coherency of the picture. The work thus provides an illustration to Clement Greenberg’s remark in 1955, in which he said Gottlieb could “place a flat and irregular silhouette, that most difficult of all shapes to adjust in isolation to the rectangle, with a force and rightness no other living painter seems capable of” (C. Greenberg, “American-Type Painting,” in Art and Culture, Boston, 1961, p. 216).

At once boundlessly universal and intensely personal, Gottlieb’s visual language is one of emotions, and his process is one of exploration: “When I feel I am fully charged and ready to let go on the canvas, I’m not in a position to analyze and view myself in an objective way. I have to let my feelings go and it’s only afterwards that I become aware of what my feelings really were. And for me this is one of the fascinations and great experiences of painting, that I become aware of myself” (A. Gottlieb, quoted in Adolph Gottlieb Works on Paper: 1966-1973,exh. cat., Los Angeles, Manny Silverman Gallery, 1990, p. 9). With highly indexical strokes and an affecting color palette, Gray Shadows restages the artist’s unrestrained expressive gestures in front of the eye.

The present work emerges from Gottlieb’s later practice since the early 1950s when he broke from his Surrealist-inspired Pictographs. In the Imaginary Landscapes series (1951–1957), he eschewed the all-over composition approach that was pursued by his colleagues in favor of a clear distinction between foreground and background. Gottlieb separated a landscape canvas into two areas with a horizon line, creating colorful geometric forms on the upper register and calligraphic paint strokes below. In the Bursts series (1956–1974), he further simplified his visual scheme into a dichotomy composition with a disc above a volatile, often black mass on a vertical canvas. With the full horizontality and the dramatic confrontation between his two signature visual motifs, Gray Shadows alludes to both series. Gottlieb was in his late forties when he entered this new phase of his career and almost seventy when he painted the present work, yet his brushwork is neither retentive nor regressive. In Gray Shadows, he resists the binary opposition between Color Field painters and Abstract Expressionists while brilliantly reconciling direct gesture with the immersion of color.

Lot Essay Header Image: Present lot illustrated (detail).

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