"Like Belmonte weaving the pattern of his being by twisting the powerful bulls around him, I seem to achieve a comparable ecstasy in bringing forth the flaming life through these large responsive areas of canvas. And as the blues or reds or blacks leap and quiver in their tenuous ambience or rise in austere thrusts to carry their power infinitely beyond the bounds of the limiting field, I move with them and find a resurrection from the moribund oppressions that held me only hours ago" (as quoted in Clyfford Still, Washington, 2001, p. 87).
1955-D, PH-387 (also referred to as 1955-D) is a quintessential Clyfford Still painting, executed when the artist was at the height of his powers. It epitomizes the abstract drama that is at the core of the artist's best work, evoked by the mountain of painterly reds, with a few small but crucial highlights of color, such as the orange and black strips along the left edges, and the delicate and poignant wisp of black descending down the center. Paint is applied thickly, in broad, heavily worked strokes of impasto, mostly created with the use of the palette knife which facilitated the realization the jagged, flame-like forms he preferred. Through the manipulation of the thickness of the paint, varying amounts of gloss and matte paint, as well as the slightest color variations within the red field, Still turns an essentially monochrome painting into a tour-de-force of abstract expressionism. Although the painting has representational references that evoke landscapes or mountainsides, Still insisted, "I never wanted color to be color. I never wanted texture to be texture, or images to become shapes. I wanted them all to fuse into a living spirit" (as quoted in Clyfford Still, Washington, 2001, p. 12).
Still had an uneasy relationship with the artworld. He rarely sold works and when he exhibited, he controlled every aspect of their dissemination, from the catalogue text to the installation. Most of the works he released were in large group sales and/or donations to museums, such as the Albright-Knox in Buffalo, the San Franciso Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. 1955-D, PH-387 was part of an important body of paintings that he sold en masse to Marlborough-Gerson, the reigning gallery of Abstract Expressionism at the time, and was included at a landmark solo exhibition at the gallery. Of the few remaining works in private hands, most of them were included in that exhibition.
Irving Sandler, author of seminal histories of Abstract Expressionism, wrote about Clyfford Still shortly after the Marlborough-Gerson exhibition, and singled out 1955-D, PH-387 for praise. "In the fifties, he increasingly opened up the picture by lightening the textures and by simplifying the field, reducing bare expanses of canvas, sized but without ground. He also keyed up his palette. Such color-fields as "1955 D" (sic) are more sensuous than before, but they are also sternly majestic, among the grandest works of the period. Despite my reservations about some of his sixties pictures, Still re-emerges at this time as a giant of contemporary art. This is the overriding impression that remains after having viewed his paintings at the Modern and the Metropolitan Museums-- seen in relation to his contemporaries-- and one corroborated by the current Marlborough-Gerson retrospective" (I. Sandler, "Clyfford Still-Emerging from Eclipse', New York Times, 21 December 1969, p. D33).
Given the strict conditions the artist placed on most of the works he released, there have been a relatively small number of Still exhibitions. It is noteworthy that the present lot has been included in virtually every significant exhibition of the artist's work since 1959. Among them is the museum-quality exhibition Masters of the Fifties: American Abstract Painting from Pollock to Stella, at Marisa del Re and organized by Sam Hunter, who wrote about 1955-D, PH-387, stating, "few paintings made by the artist are more masterful in execution, unrelenting in bright chroma or demanding in this scale. Earlier examples of Still's uncompromising color painting broken by fragile lines profoundly influenced the direction taken by the equally distinctive and exalted color field paintings of Rothko and Newman, and may, in fact, be viewed as the ancestors of Newman's famous linear divisions, or "zips" (S. Hunter, Masters of the Fifties: American Abstract Painting from Pollock to Stella, New York, 1985, n.p.).
The forthcoming Clyfford Still Museum in Denver, which may open as early as 2009, will be a watershed event in the appreciation of the artist. For the first time, viewers will be able to see the scope and breadth of his achievement. The artist's archives, which are currently sealed, will eventually be released and provide valuable documents to help scholars understand the historical period during which he lived. Nonetheless, what will not change is the total number of works that Still sold without restriction, which is believed to be approximately 150 and most of those are already earmarked for institutional collections. The opportunity to acquire a work of 1955-D, PH-387's unparalleled quality, heroic scale, dramatic palette, extensive exhibition history, and which dates from one of his most sought-after periods is a rare event indeed.
Oil on canvas
Signed, titled and dated 'Clyfford Still 1955-D' (on the reverse)
Buffalo, Albright Knox Gallery, Clyfford Still, November-December 1959, no. 62 (illustrated).
New York, Marlborough-Gerson Gallery, Clyfford Still, October-November 1969, p. 54, no. 28 (illustrated in color).
New York, Marisa del Re Gallery, Masters of the Fifties: American Abstract Painting from Pollock to Stella, October-December 1985, p. 56 (illustrated).
Fort Lauderdale Museum of Art, An American Renaissance: Painting and Sculpture since 1940, January-March 1986, pl. 18 (illustrated).
Berlin, Martin-Gropius Bau, Der Unverbrauchte Blick. Kunst unserer Zeit in Berliner Sicht, January-April 1987 (illustrated).
Paris, Musée National d'Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Années 50, June-October 1988 (illustrated).
New York, Gagosian Gallery, Group Exhibition, January-March 1992.
Tokyo, Sezon Museum of Art; Nagoya City, Aichi Prefectural Museum of Art and Hiroshima City Museum of Contemporary Art, Abstract Expressionism, June-November 1996, pp. 184-185, no. 65 (illustrated). Hamburger Kunsthalle, [longterm loan], February 1997.
Washington, D.C., Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Clyfford Still, June-September 2001, p. 161, no. 33 (illustrated in color).
Barcelona, Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona, The Onnasch Collection: Aspects of Contemporary Art, November 2001-February 2002. Basel/Riehen, Fondation Beyeler, Claude Monet...biz zum digitalen Impresssionismus, March-August 2002, p. 180 (illustrated).
POST-WAR & CONTEMPORARY ART
117½ x 111 in. (298.5 x 282 cm.)
E. C. Goosen, "Painting as Confrontation, Art International, vol. IV/I, 1960, p. 43 (illustrated).
B. Rose, "New York Letter," Art International, vol. VII, December 1963, p. 61.
I. Sandler, "Clyfford Still: Emerging from the Eclipse," The New York Times, 21 December 1969.
"Collection of Ahmet Ertegun," Harper's Bazaar, February 1973.
A. Lerner, The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, New York, 1974, p. 502, no. 740.
D. Kuspit, "Clyfford Still: The Ethics of Art," Artforum, May 1977, p. 37.
"Marisa del Re Gallery, New York," Art News, November 1985 (illustrated).
S. Hunter, Masters of the Fifties: American Abstract Painting from Pollock to Stella, New York, 1985, p. 56 (illustrated).
Acquired from the artist
Marlborough-Gerson Gallery, New York, 1969
Ahmet Ertegun collection, New York
Marisa del Re Gallery, New York
Anon. sale; Christie's, New York, 14 November 1995, lot 29
Gagosian Gallery, New York
Onnasch Collection, Berlin
Acquired from the above by the present owner