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Photo credit: Yale University Art Gallery
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Artist: Jackson Pollock, American, 1912–1956
Number 13A: Arabesque
Oil and enamel on canvas
94 x 297.2 cm (37 x 117 in.), framed: 97.8 x 298.4 x 5.4 cm (38 1/2 x 117 1/2 x 2 1/8 in.)
Gift of Richard Brown Baker, B.A. 1935
Jackson Pollock was a pivotal member of the New York avant-garde after the Second World War. His notoriety stemmed from his novel manner of applying paint. Inspired by Navajo sand painting, Pollock abandoned the tradition of easel painting, which he considered “a dying form,” choosing instead to work on unstretched canvas laid on the ground onto which he would drip, fling, and scratch paint using dried brushes, sticks, and pigment hurled directly from the can. Moving beyond pictorial representation or premeditated design, this technique, which became known as “action painting,” gave each work an expressive immediacy related to the artist’s subconscious.
Number 13 was one of a series of large, horizontal murals that Pollock made in the late 1940s. Its looping skeins of paint poured onto the henna-brown stained canvas possess an airy spatiality that distinguishes the painting from some of Pollock’s other, more densely-painted works. Although “Arabesque” is most likely a name given to the mural by Pollock’s friends, the evocation of dance is fitting for its rhythmically repeating passages, which inscribe the gestures the artist made as he moved around the canvas. The composition of curling layers of black, gray, and white enamel seems to obey the limits of the canvas, giving the painting a sense of unity that may have been what led poet and MoMA curator Frank O’Hara to call the work “classic.”
The artist’s dealers from the 1950s recall that Pollock had a special affinity for Number 13, and the artist kept it displayed in a prominent spot in his living room for several years.
Peter Hawes, A Great Panorama Celebrating Twenty-five Years of American Art at Yale, exh. cat. (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Art Gallery, 1998), 13, ill.
Johanna Garfield, “Getting There First: Reflections of a Collector,” New York Times (October 28, 1998), D43, ill.
Jim Coddington, “Jackson Pollock’s ‘Number 13A, 1948: Arabesque’,” Yale University Art Gallery Bulletin (1999): 138, fig. 1.
Laurie Schneider, Looking at Art (Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 2003), 90, 171.
Timothy Cahill, “Bringing a Pollock to Life,” Art Conservator 1, no. 1 (November 2006): 67, ill.
Emily Ballew Neff, The Modern West: American Landscapes, 18901950, exh. cat. (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2006), 27273, ill.
Ronni Gordon, “Williams College Exhibit: Painting a New Portrait of “Dripster”,” Leisure (April 9, 2006): 1, ill.
“Williams Museum to Drip with Pollock Starting Friday,” The Advocate (April 13, 2006): 17.
Suzanne Boorsch and Jennifer Gross, “The Richard Brown Baker Collection at the Yale University Art Gallery,” Yale University Art Gallery Bulletin (2008): 30, fig. 2.
Jennifer Farrell et al., Get There First, Decide Promptly: The Richard Brown Baker Collection of Postwar Art (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Art Gallery, 2011), 18486, fig. 1.
Note: This electronic record was created from historic documentation that does not necessarily reflect the Yale University Art Gallery’s complete or current knowledge about the object. Review and updating of such records is ongoing.