Richard Pousette-Dart (1916-1992)
The Arthur and Anita Kahn Collection: A New York Story
Richard Pousette-Dart (1916-1992)

Blood Wedding

Richard Pousette-Dart (1916-1992)
Blood Wedding
diptych—oil on canvas
overall: 77 x 112 3/4 in. (195.6 x 286.4 cm.)
Painted in 1958.
Betty Parsons Gallery, New York
Equitable Life Assurance Society, New York, 1961
Their sale; Sotheby's, New York, 10 November 1986, lot 4
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner
J. Schuyler, "Exhibition at Parsons," ARTnews, v. 58, no. 4, May 1959, p. 15.
S. Tillim, "In the Galleries: Richard Pousette-Dart," Arts Magazine, v. 33, no. 8, May 1959, p. 55 (illustrated).
J. Kroll, "Richard Pousette-Dart: Transcendental Expressionist," ARTnews, v. 60, no. 2, April 1961, p. 35 (illustrated).
L. Campbell, "Pousette-Dart: Circles and Cycles," ARTnews, v. 62, no. 3, May 1963, pp. 42-43, fig. 2 (illustrated in color).
H. Kramer, "Art," Nation, v. 196, no. 20, 18 May 1963, p. 429.
V. Raynor, "An ARTS Magazine profile: Richard Pousette-Dart," Arts Magazine, v. 39, no. 4, January 1965, p. 35 (illustrated in color).
Richard Pousette-Dart, exh. cat., New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, 1974, p. 7.
C. Moritz, ed., Current Biography Yearbook, New York, 1976, p. 323.
J. Higgins, "Pousette-Dart's Windows into the Unknowing," ARTnews, v. 86, no. 1, January 1987, p. 113.
H. Kramer, "The Critic's Eye: 'Five Decades of Richard Pousette-Dart,'" MD, v. 35, no. 1, January 1991, p. 19 (illustrated).
S. Vallongo, "Exploring an Artist's Inner Realms," The Blade, 17 February 1991, p. 2.
B. Rose, "Richard Pousette-Dart: Expression in Paint," The Journal of Art, v. 4, no. 3, March 1991, p. 52.
S. Polcari, Abstract Expressionism and the Modern Experience, New York, 1991, pl. 31 (illustrated in color).
D. Kuspit, "Relics of Transcendence," Art in America, v. 86, no. 5, May 1998, p. 117.
S. Hunter and J. Kuebler, eds., Pousette-Dart: The New York School and Beyond, Milan, 2005, pp. 28-29, 126-127 and cover, no. 63 (illustrated in color).
R. Somerstein, "Artist Dossier: Richard Pousette-Dart," Art + Auction, v. 35, no. 4, December 2011, p. 104.
Richard Pousette-Dart, exh. cat., New York, Pace Gallery, 2014, p. 9, fig. 7 (illustrated in color).
New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, Annual Exhibition of Sculpture, Paintings, Watercolors and Drawings, November 1958-January 1959, no. 134.
New York, Betty Parsons Gallery, Richard Pousette-Dart, March-April 1959.
New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, Richard Pousette-Dart, April-May 1963, pp. 13 and 51, no. 28 (illustrated in color).
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, New York School, The First Generation: Paintings of the 1940s and 1950s, July-August 1965, p. 168, no. 91 (illustrated).
New York, Marisa del Re Gallery, Masters of the Fifties: American Abstract Painting from Pollock to Stella, October-December 1985, pp. 46-47 and 61 (illustrated in color).
Fort Lauderdale, Museum of Art, Transcending Abstraction: Richard Pousette-Dart, Paintings 1939-1985, April-June 1986, pp. 20, 30, 46 and 92, no. 27, pl. 7 (illustrated in color).
Indianapolis Museum of Art; Detroit Institute of Arts and Columbus Museum, Richard Pousette-Dart, October 1990-January 1992, pp. 54, 122, 129 and 170, no. 84 (illustrated in color).

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Sara Friedlander
Sara Friedlander

Lot Essay

Blood Wedding holds a place of prime significance within the oeuvre of Richard Pousette-Dart. Painted over the span of almost seven years – Pousette-Dart often reworked and layered paintings in a process of continual redefinition and refinement –  Blood Wedding was first exhibited at the Whitney Annual in 1958. Executed on two large, conjoined canvases, the work is a monumental testament to the diverse themes and approaches of Pousette-Dart’s abstract expressionist painting, and suggests new directions for American painting that emerged during the 1960s.

Blood Wedding was created after a period of intense graphic investigation in which Pousette-Dart employed a reduced palette to produce a series of “White Paintings.” Shifting his visual explorations radically, he refocused his artistic inquiries towards the particulars of color, especially as energized upon the surfaces of densely-painted canvases. An important group of these works from the mid-1950s are now referred to as “Gothic” paintings, in obvious reference to the magnificent stained glass windows of 14th-century cathedrals, as well as to jewel-encrusted covers of liturgical missals and opulent reliquaries. The label “Byzantine” additionally identifies works such as Blood Wedding, linking effects achieved on canvas through the application of multitudinous dabs of paint to the shimmering qualities of mosaics. Harnessing and refashioning the effects of light was an overarching concern for Pousette-Dart throughout his career, and these Gothic works combine color and luminosity to great effect. Guiding the artist’s painterly investigations into the effects of light were keen observations of his natural surroundings in Rockland County – glistening dew on flowers and refracted light upon moving water – which greatly inform works such as Summer Illumination.

Blood Wedding is the largest and most ambitious painting of the Gothic series, eclipsing major examples including Casella II (Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Gardens), The Magnificent (Whitney Museum of American Art), and Amaranth, formerly of the Kahn collection. A kaleidoscopic celebration of color, light and form, Blood Wedding engages a panoply of painterly approaches that includes linear outline defined by brush, dense precincts of palette-knife work, and drips and runs of pigment commonly associated with the aleatory practices of abstract expressionism. Significantly, heavy accretions of impasto applied directly from the tube appear in Blood Wedding, opening the way for simplified fields of color built from dabs of pigment that shaped the paintings of Pousette-Dart and other Americans from the 1960s onward. Nearly sculptural in density, the painting plots the interplay of deeply saturated color and line as it radiates intense luminosity through the application of multiple layers of rich and brilliant oil pigment.

The title of Blood Wedding refers to Federico García Lorca’s dramatic work of 1933, which gained popularity in New York during the 1950s. As Pousette-Dart’s mother was a published poet, and his wife and intellectual partner, Evelyn, encouraged his reading of Lorca, the artist had a strong familiarity with the literary work of Lorca, as well as the circumstances of his death at the hands of Franco’s Nationalists. Pousette-Dart, however, rarely embarked on a predetermined course for either the processes or subjects of his mature painting – he preferred instead to follow an intuitive course of experimentation and revelation –  yet the association to Lorca›s dramatic tragedy became enmeshed with the work almost immediately upon the painting›s completion. It has been noted that the predominance of red in the painting invokes «blood» – sangre is repeated throughout Lorca’s play – heightening the aura of tragedy through chromatic association. Certainly Pousette-Dart’s kinship with his close friend Mark Rothko, as well as longstanding intellectual camaraderie with Barnett Newman, dictates that Blood Wedding be considered in context with well-known abstract expressionist statements centered upon the mythic and tragic. But more singularly, his own life-long convictions as a pacifist placed Pousette-dart in sympathy with the progressive stances of Lorca and the Spanish Republicans, who were widely discussed among New York intellectuals at the time.

While one might best refrain from literal readings of Blood Wedding, the resplendent spectral imagery of the painting does suggest a dance or play of forms within dramatic figural relationships. Pousette-Dart was well-versed the history of Renaissance painting, and he may have reveled in the diptych format for its traditional roles in contrasting the sacred and human; ethereal and earthily; male and female through a bisected compositional arrangement. Indeed, the large, yellow lozenge at the right and amorphous passage of blue pigment with black outline at the left seem to establish such a tension of opposites within the larger frieze-like grid, exemplifying Pousette-Dart’s affinity for “asymmetrical balance.” Overall, Blood Wedding masterfully organizes an abundance of biomorphic and geometric shapes into an iridescent array woven together by tracery. Appearing simultaneously as fluctuating and concrete, it celebrates the circuitry of interconnected forms and energies found both within nature and the recesses of the human imagination.

Charles H. Duncan
Executive Director, The Richard Pousette-Dart Foundation

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