World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Barnett Newman

Barnett Newman
Onement 1, 1948. Museum of Modern Art, New York. The first example of Newman using the so-called "zip" to define the spatial structure of his paintings
Born (1905-01-29)January 29, 1905
New York City
Died July 4, 1970(1970-07-04) (aged 65)
New York City
Nationality American
Known for Painting
Notable work The Stations of the Cross, Vir heroicus sublimis
Movement Abstract Expressionism, Color Field painting

Barnett Newman (January 29, 1905 – July 4, 1970) was an American artist. He is seen as one of the major figures in abstract expressionism and one of the foremost of the color field painters. His paintings are existential in tone and content, explicitly composed with the intention of communicating a sense of locality, presence, and contingency.[1]


  • Early life 1
  • Career 2
  • Legacy 3
  • Selected collections 4
  • Art market 5
  • See also 6
  • References 7
  • Further reading 8
  • External links 9

Early life

Newman was born in New York City, the son of Jewish immigrants from Poland. He studied philosophy at the City College of New York and worked in his father's business manufacturing clothing. He later made a living as a teacher, writer and critic.[2] From the 1930s on he made paintings, said to be in an expressionist style, but eventually destroyed all these works. Newman met art teacher Annalee Greenhouse in 1934; they were married on June 30, 1936.[3]


What is the explanation of the seemingly insane drive of man to be painter and poet if it is not an act of defiance against man's fall and an assertion that he return to the Garden of Eden? For the artists are the first men.
— Barnett Newman [4]

Newman wrote catalogue forewords and reviews and also organized exhibitions before becoming a member of the Uptown Group and having his first solo show at the Betty Parsons Gallery in 1948. Soon after his first exhibition, Newman remarked in one of the Artists' Session at Studio 35: "We are in the process of making the world, to a certain extent, in our own image."[5] Utilizing his writing skills, Newman fought to reinforce his newly established image as an artist and to promote his work. An example is his letter on April 9, 1955, "Letter to Sidney Janis: is true that Rothko talks the fighter. He fights, however, to submit to the philistine world. My struggle against bourgeois society has involved the total rejection of it."[6]

Throughout the 1940s he worked in a surrealist vein before developing his mature style. This is characterised by areas of color separated by thin vertical lines, or "zips" as Newman called them. In the first works featuring zips, the color fields are variegated, but later the colors are pure and flat. Newman himself thought that he reached his fully mature style with the Onement series (from 1948). The zips define the spatial structure of the painting, while simultaneously dividing and uniting the composition. Already 1944 Barnett Newman tried to explain America's newest art movement and included a list of "the men in the new movement." Ex-Surrealists, like Matta are mentioned, Wolfgang Paalen Paalen is mentioned twice together with Gottlieb, Rothko, Pollock, Hofmann, Baziotes, Gorky and others. Motherwell is mentioned with a question mark.[7]

Who's Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue?, 1966. Typical of Newman's later work, with the use of pure and vibrant color.

The zip remained a constant feature of Newman's work throughout his life. In some paintings of the 1950s, such as The Wild, which is eight feet tall by one and a half inches wide (2.4 meters by 2 centimeters), the zip is all there is to the work. Newman also made a few sculptures which are essentially three-dimensional zips.[8]

Although Newman's paintings appear to be purely abstract, and many of them were originally untitled, the names he later gave them hinted at specific subjects being addressed, often with a Jewish theme. Two paintings from the early 1950s, for example, are called Adam and Eve (see Adam and Eve), and there is also Uriel (1954) and Abraham (1949), a very dark painting, which as well as being the name of a biblical patriarch, was also the name of Newman's father, who had died in 1947.

The Stations of the Cross series of black and white paintings (1958–66), begun shortly after Newman had recovered from a heart attack, is usually regarded as the peak of his achievement. The series is subtitled "Lema sabachthani" - "why have you forsaken me" - the last words spoken by Jesus on the cross, according to the New Testament. Newman saw these words as having universal significance in his own time. The series has also been seen as a memorial to the victims of the holocaust.[9]

Newman's late works, such as the Who's Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue series, use vibrant, pure colors, often on very large canvases - Anna's Light (1968), named in memory of his mother who had died in 1965, is his largest work, 28 feet wide by 9 feet tall (8.5 by 2.7 meters). Newman also worked on shaped canvases late in life, with Chartres (1969), for example, being triangular, and returned to sculpture, making a small number of sleek pieces in steel. These later paintings are executed in acrylic paint rather than the oil paint of earlier pieces. Of his sculptures, Broken Obelisk (1963) is the most monumental and best-known, depicting an inverted obelisk whose point balances on the apex of a pyramid.

Newman also made a series of lithographs, the 18 Cantos (1963–64) which, according to Newman, are meant to be evocative of music. He also made a small number of etchings.

Newman is generally classified as an abstract expressionist on account of his working in New York City in the 1950s, associating with other artists of the group and developing an abstract style which owed little or nothing to European art. However, his rejection of the expressive brushwork employed by other abstract expressionists such as Clyfford Still and Mark Rothko, and his use of hard-edged areas of flat color, can be seen as a precursor to post painterly abstraction and the minimalist works of artists such as Frank Stella.

Newman was unappreciated as an artist for much of his life, being overlooked in favour of more colorful characters such as Jackson Pollock. The influential critic Clement Greenberg wrote enthusiastically about him, but it was not until the end of his life that he began to be taken seriously. He was, however, an important influence on many younger artists such as Donald Judd, Frank Stella and Bob Law.[8]

Broken Obelisk, Menil Collection, Houston, Texas


Newman died in New York City of a heart attack in 1970.[2]

Nine years after Newman's death, his widow Annalee founded the Barnett Newman Foundation. The foundation not only functions as his official estate, but also serves "to encourage the study and understanding of Barnett Newman's life and works."[10] The foundation was instrumental in creating Newman's catalogue raisonné in 2004.[11] The U.S. copyright representative for the Barnett Newman Foundation is the Artists Rights Society.[12]

Selected collections

Among the public collections holding works by Barnett Newman are the Addison Gallery of American Art (Andover, Massachusetts), the Allen Memorial Art Museum (Oberlin College, Ohio), the Art Institute of Chicago, the Berlin State Museums, the Cleveland Museum of Art, Harvard University Art Museums, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden (Washington D.C.), the Indianapolis Museum of Art, Kawamura Memorial Museum of Art (Japan), Kunstmuseum Basel (Switzerland), the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Menil Collection (Houston, Texas), the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía (Madrid), the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, the Museum of Modern Art (New York City), the Nasher Sculpture Center (Dallas, Texas), the Nassau County Museum of Art (Roslyn Harbor, New York), the National Gallery of Art (Washington D.C.), the National Gallery of Canada (Ottawa), the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Sheldon Museum of Art (Lincoln, Nebraska), the Smithsonian American Art Museum (Washington D.C.), Stedelijk Museum (Amsterdam), the Tate Gallery (London), the Wadsworth Atheneum (Hartford, Connecticut), the Walker Art Center (Minneapolis, Minnesota), the Wallraf-Richartz-Museum (Cologne, Germany), and the Whitney Museum of American Art (New York City).

Art market

After Newman had an artistic breakthrough in 1948, he and his wife decided that he should devote all his energy to his art. They lived almost entirely off Annalee Newman's teaching salary until the late 1950s, when Newman's paintings began to sell consistently.[3] Ulysses (1952), a blue-and-black striped painting, sold in 1985 for $1,595,000 at Sotheby's to an American collector who was not identified.[13] Consigned by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen and previously part of Frederick R. Weisman's collection, Newman’s 8.5-by-10-foot Onement VI (1953) was sold for a record $43.8 million at Sotheby's New York in 2013; its sale was ensured by an undisclosed third-party guarantee.[14] This was eclipsed on May 13, 2014 when Black Fire 1 sold for $84.2 million.[15]

See also


  1. ^ Sylvester, David (1998). The Grove Book of Art Writing. New York, NY: Grove Press. p. 537.   Barnet Newman:"The painting should give man a sense of place: that he knows he's there, so he's aware of himself. In that sense he relates to me when I made the painting because in that sense I was there... [Hopefully] you [have] a sense of your own scale [standing in front of the painting]... To me that sense of place has not only a sense of mystery but also has a sense of metaphysical fact. I have come to distrust the episodic, and I hope that my painting has the impact of giving someone, as it did me, the feeling of his own totality, of his own separateness, of his own individuality and the same time of his connection to others, who are also separate."
  2. ^ a b The Barnett Newman Foundation website: Chronology of the Artist's Life page
  3. ^ a b Roberta Smith (May 13, 2000), Annalee Newman, 91, Muse And Support for the Artist New York Times.
  4. ^ Barbara Hess (2005). Abstract Expressionism. Taschen. p. 40. ISBN 978-382282970-7
  5. ^ John P. O'Neill, ed. (1990). Barnett Newman Selected Writings and Interviews. University of California Press. pp. 240–241. 
  6. ^ John P. O'Neill, ed. (1990). Barnett Newman Selected Writings and Interviews. University of California Press. p. 201. 
  7. ^ Barnett Newman Foundation, archive 18/103
  8. ^ a b Chilvers, Ian and Glaves-Smith, John, A Dictionary of Modern and Contemporary Art, second edition (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), p. 511. ISBN 0199239665.
  9. ^ Menachem Wecker (August 1, 2012). "His Cross To Bear. Barnett Newman Dealt With Suffering in ‘Zips’".  
  10. ^ The Barnett Newman Foundation website: About the Foundation page
  11. ^ The Barnett Newman Foundation website: Catalogue Raisonne page
  12. ^ Most frequently requested artists list of the Artists Rights Society
  13. ^ Rita Reif (May 3, 1985), Barnett Newman's 'Ulysses' Sold At Sotheby's Auction New York Times.
  14. ^ Katya Kazakina and Philip Boroff (May 15, 2013), Barnett Newman Leads Sotheby’s NYC $294 Million Auction Bloomberg
  15. ^ Kathryn Tully (2014-05-14). "New Artists Set Auction Records At Christie's Biggest Ever Sale". Forbes. 

Further reading

  • Ellyn Childs Allison, ed., Barnett Newman: A Catalogue Raisonné (Yale University Press, 2004.) ISBN 0-300-10167-8
  • Bruno Eble (2011). Barnett Newman et l'art roman (in French). Paris: L'Harmattan.  
  • Mark Godfrey (2007). Abstraction and the Holocaust. Yale University Press. pp. 51–78.  
  • Marika Herskovic, American Abstract Expressionism of the 1950s An Illustrated Survey (New York School Press, 2003.) ISBN 0-9677994-1-4
  • Ann Temkin, Barnett Newman (Yale University Press, 2002.) [Catalogue for the Exhibition "Barnett Newman," Philadelphia Museum of Art, March 24 to July 7, 2002; Tate Modern London, September 19, 2002, to January 5, 2003] ISBN 0-87633-156-8
  • Jean-Francois Lyotard, "Newmann: The Instant", in: Jean-Francois Lyotard, Miscellaneous Texts II: Contemporary Artists (Leuven University Press, 2012.) ISBN 978-90-586-7886-7

External links

  • The Barnett Newman Foundation
  • Barnett Newman at the Museum of Modern Art
  • Barnett Newman at the Philadelphia Museum of Art
  • Newman's page at the Tate Gallery (includes images of the 18 Cantos and other works)
  • American Museum of Natural History, Dept. of Anthropology correspondence with Barnett Newman and Betty Parsons, 1944-1946 in the collection of the Smithsonian Archives of American Art
This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from World eBook Library are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.