"Art lies behind the cloth of surface things, it is always deeper than appearance and must be delved for"--Richard Pousette-Dart
Number 1, 1951 is an important painting in Richard Pousette-Dart's career, executed during a breakthrough period in the early 1950s. Looking to escape the distractions and social whirlwind of New York City, Pousette-Dart moved to rural and mountainous Sloatsburg in 1951, at the north gate of Tuxedo Park, which helped inspire a new direction in his work. The cubist structure and swirling Surrealist-derived biomorphic forms of his 1940s work give way to bold harmonies of saturated, high-key color and a shimmering light-drenched surface. The forms suggest abstracted mythic figures that were populating many of the Abstract Expressionists' canvases at this time. Pousette-Dart was also influenced by the hieratic quality of African art, bold outlines of Native American design and the inner light and composition of stained glass windows, which, combined with the artist's thick impasto, create a magical landscape of evocative forms and abstract poetry.
The Pousette-Darts took up residence in a modest white frame farmhouse in Sloatsburg, whose remote location was a balm for an intense artist looking to focus more on his work and less on the New York City art scene. He dramatically responded with a series of fluid and luminous paintings that are marked with a painterly verve and color that visually explodes off the canvas. Although nature was the most important inspiration for Pousette-Dart, its subject matter was filtered through the artist's search for inner truth rather than a straightforward representation. "Art is not a mirror reflecting nature, but is the very essence of man's aesthetic, imaginative, experience. Art transcends, transforms nature, creates a nature beyond nature, a supra nature, a thing in itself-its own nature, answering the deep need of man's imaginative and aesthetic being" (R. Pousette-Dart quoted in R. Hobbs and J. Kuebler, Richard Pousette-Dart, exh. cat., Indianapolis, 1990, p. 74).
Richard Pousette-Dart grew up in an art-filled environment that nurtured his natural creative abilities. His mother Flora was a poet and musician and his father Nathaniel, a noted Impressionist painter and writer on art. Not surprisingly, Pousette-Dart wrote poetry of his own, and developed a lush painterly style that has some similarities with his father's work. Pousette-Dart also created sculpture and photography, the latter a prodigious body of work that has been exhibited sporadically throughout his career. Signifying the present lot's importance is its inclusion in a dramatic portrait (see figs. 1 and 2) taken in the artist's den/library where the painting was displayed from the late 1950s-1960s.
Pousette-Dart's prime legacy rests with his paintings and drawings that he began exhibiting in New York in the 1940s. A first generation member of the New York School, he was included in many seminal exhibitions, including solo and group exhibitions at Peggy Guggenheim's Art of This Century gallery, the Venice Biennale in 1948, MoMA's Contemporary American Painters in 1949 and regularly in the Whitney annual surveys of American art. He also attended the informal Subjects of the Artists 'school' in 1948 that later became the influential meeting place, "The Club."
During 1950-1951, the years of the creation of Number 1, 1951, Pousette-Dart's work achieved accolades--including a Guggenheim Fellowship--and Abstract Expressionism was at the height of its popularity. The Museum of Modern Art acquired Number 11: A Presence and included his work in the mammoth groundbreaking exhibition Abstract Painting and Sculpture in America. He also had a solo exhibition at the seminal Betty Parsons Gallery, who represented his peers Jackson Pollock, Clyfford Still, Mark Rothko and others. Finally, he was included in the infamous Life magazine "Irascibles" group photograph of the New York School, an image that would forever link him with that group of mid-century painters in New York that changed the course of the artworld.
Pousette-Dart's work is included in most important museum collections and has been the subject of numerous retrospectives, most prominently, the Whitney Museum of American Art (1963), Museum of Modern Art circulating exhibition (1969-1970), Indianapolis Museum of Art (1990-1991) and the Metropolitan Museum of Art (1997-1998).