Lot 29
  • 29

Barnett Newman

3,500,000 - 4,500,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • Barnett Newman
  • Genesis - The Break
  • signed, titled and dated 1946; signed, titled and dated 1946 on the reverse
  • oil on canvas
  • 24 x 27 1/8 in. 61 x 68.9 cm.


Betty Parsons Gallery, New York
Mr. and Mrs. John Stephan (acquired from the above in January 1949)
Dr. Ruth Stephan (later Mrs. John C. Franklin), Greenwich
New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation, Bellevue Hospital Center, New York (acquired by bequest from the above in April 1974)
Sotheby Parke Bernet, New York, October 20, 1977, Lot 213 (sold by the above)
The Mayor Gallery, London
The Lone Star Foundation, Inc., New York (acquired from the above in August 1978)
Acquired by the present owner from the above in August 1980


New York, Betty Parsons Gallery, circa 1947
New York, French and Company, Inc., Barnett Newman: A Selection, 1946-1952, March – April 1959, cat. no. 6 (exhibited in incorrect orientation and titled Genesis)
Los Angeles, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, New York School, The First Generation: Paintings of the 1940s and 1950s, June – August 1965, cat. no. 68, p. 141, illustrated
Paris, Galeries Nationales d’Exposition du Grand Palais, L’Amérique aux Indépendents 1944-1980, March – April 1980, cat. no. 51, p. 37, illustrated
Providence, Bell Gallery, Brown University; Worcester, Cantor Art Gallery, College of Holy Cross; Southampton, The Parrish Art Museum, Flying Tigers: Painting and Sculpture in New York 1939-1946, April – July 1985, cat. no. 38, p. 79, illustrated (incorrect orientation) 
New York, The Pace Gallery, Barnett Newman: Paintings, April – May 1988, cat. no. 1, illustrated in color 
Minneapolis, Walker Art Center; Saint Louis, The Saint Louis Art Museum; New York, The Pace Gallery, The Sublime is Now: The Early Work of Barnett Newman: Paintings and Drawings 1944-1949, March – November 1994, cat. no. 36, p. 71, illustrated in color, and pp. 11, 19 and 20 (text)
Philadelphia, Philadelphia Museum of Art; London, Tate Modern, Barnett Newman, March 2002 – January 2003, cat. no. 12, p. 129, illustrated in color, and pp. 39, 57, and 74 (text)
Houston, The Menil Collection, Extended Loan, August 2003 - April 2008, and May 2009 - February 2012
New York, The Jewish Museum; Saint Louis, The Saint Louis Art Museum; Buffalo, New York, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Action/Abstraction: Abstract Expressionism and Postwar America, May 2008 - May 2009, pl. 9, p. 52, illustrated in color
New York, The Pace Gallery, Mythology, February - April 2012, p. 44, illustrated in color


The Tiger's Eye I, no. 9, October 15, 1949, p. 59, illustrated (incorrect orientation) (titled Break and dated 1948)
Harold Rosenberg, “Barnett Newman: A Man of Controversy and Spiritual Grandeur,” Vogue, February 15, 1963, p. 166 (text)
Harold Rosenberg, “Barnett Newman: The Living Rectangle,” The Anxious Object: Art Today and Its Audience, New York, 1964, p. 174 (titled Genesis) (text)
Philip Leider, “The New York School in Los Angeles,” Artforum 4, no. 1, September 1965, p. 5, illustrated, and p. 11 (text)
Dore Ashton, "Gli inizi: Dell'espressionismo astratto in America," L'Arte Moderne 13, no. 109, circa 1967, p. 35, illustrated
Lawrence Alloway, “Notes on Barnett Newman,” Art International 13, no. 6, Summer 1969, p. 35 (titled Genesis) (text)
Harold Rosenberg, “Icon Maker,” The New Yorker, April 19, 1969, p. 138 (text)
Niels Luning Prak, “Persistent Schemes: The Quest for a Neutral Form,” Art International 14, no. 7, September 1970, p. 77 (text)
Sam Hunter, La Pittura americana del dopoguerra, Milan, 1970, p. 94, illustrated
Barbara M. Reise, "The Stance of Barnett Newman," Studio International, 179, no. 919, February 1970, no. I, illustrated
Exh. Cat., New York, Museum of Modern Art, Barnett Newman, 1971, pp. 47-8 and 52 (text)
Harold Rosenberg, Barnett Newman: “Broken Obelisk” and Other Sculptures, Seattle and London, 1971, p. 15 (text)
Exh. Cat., Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, Barnett Newman, 1972, p. 39, illustrated and p. 40 (text)
Harold Rosenberg, “Meaning in Abstract Art (Continued),” The New Yorker, January 1, 1972, p. 43 (titled Genesis) (text)
Benjamin Garrison Paskus, “The Theory, Art, and Critical Reception of Barnett Newman,” Ph.D. dissertation, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 1974, pp. 80-1 (text)
Robert Rosenblum, Modern Painting and the Northern Romantic Tradition: Friedrich to Rothko, London, 1975, fig. 304, pp. 208-9, illustrated
Exh. Cat., Ithaca, Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University, Abstract Expressionism: The Formative Years, 1978, p. 96 (text)
Harold Rosenberg, Barnett Newman, New York, 1978, pl. 46, p. 78, illustrated in color
Exh. Cat., Baltimore, The Baltimore Museum of Art, Barnett Newman: The Complete Drawings,1944-1969, 1979, p. 110 (text)
Madeleine Deschamps, “B. Newman entre le texte et le zip,” Art Press, no. 35, March 1980, p. 22 (text)
William Fleming, Art and Ideas, New York, 1980, fig. 5, p. 4, illustrated, and pp. 5, 6 and 447 (text)
Harold Rosenberg, “La sculpture de Barnett Newman,” Art Press, no. 35, March 1980, p. 12 (text)
Jeffrey Weiss, “Science and Primitivism: A Fearful Symmetry in the Early New York School,” Arts Magazine 57, no. 7, March 1983, p. 85 (text)
Ann Eden Gibson, “Theory Undeclared: Avant-Garde Magazines as a Guide to Abstract Expressionist Images and Ideas,” Ph.D. dissertation, University of Delaware, 1984, fig. 30, p. 468, illustrated, and p. 282 (text) (titled The Break (Genesis – the Break))
John Dillenberger, A Theology of Artistic Sensibilities: The Visual Arts and the Church, New York, 1986, pp. 158-9 (text)
Exh. Cat., Cologne, Museum Ludwig, Europa/Amerika: Die Geschichte einer künstlerischen Faszination seit 1940, 1986, p. 19, (text) (titled Genesis – Der Durchbruch)
Ann Gibson, “Monochrome Malerei in Amerika seit 1950,” Kunstforum International, no. 88, March – April 1987, p. 122 (text)
Ronald Jones, “Barnett Newman: His Historical Position Resembles Our Own,” Flash Art International, no. 141, Summer 1988, p. 155, illustrated in color
Michael Kimmelman, “Newman’s Quest for a Vocabulary,” The New York Times, 15 April 1988, p. C20, illustrated
Diane Waldman, Willem de Kooning, New York, 1988, pl. 52, p. 71, illustrated and p. 67 (text)
Exh. Cat., Buffalo, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Abstraction – Geometry – Painting: Selected Geometric Abstract Painting in America Since 1945, 1989, p. 40 (text)
Yve-Alain Bois, “Perceiving Newman,” Painting as Model, Cambridge, Massachusetts and London, 1990, fig. 68, p. 188, illustrated and pp. 188, 190 and 193 (text)
Donald Goddard, American Painting, New York, 1990, p. 235 (text)
Stephen Polcari, “Barnett Newman: New Beginnings,” Abstract Expressionism and the Modern Experience, Cambridge and New York, 1991, fig. 132, p. 196, illustrated and p. 195 (text)
Ziva Amishai-Maisels, Depiction and Interpretation: The Influence of the Holocaust on the Visual Arts, Oxford and New York, 1993, pp. 302 and 485 (text)
Renée van de Vall, Een sublime gevoel van plaats: Een filosofische interpretatie van het werk van Barnett Newman, Groningen, 1994, p. 60 (text)
W. Jackson Rushing, “Decade of Decision,” Art Journal 54, Spring 1995, pp. 89-91, illustrated
Sebastian Egenhofer, The Sublime Is Now: Zu den Schriften und Gesprächen Barnett Newmans, Koblenz, 1996, p. 54 (text)
Exh. Cat., Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art, Negotiating Rapture: The Power of Art to Transform Lives, 1996, p. 141 (text)
Mollie McNickle, “The Mind and Art of Barnett Newman,” Ph.D. dissertation, University of Pennsylvania, 1996, pp. 184-5, 187, 189 and 255 (text)
Ann Eden Gibson, Abstract Expressionism: Other Politics, New Haven and London, 1997, pp. 29-30, illustrated
Exh. Cat., Düsseldorf, Kunstsammlung Nordhein-Westfalen, Barnett Newman: Bilder, Skulpturen, Graphik, 1997, fig. 9, p. 67, illustrated, and p. 64 (text)
H. H. Arnason et al., History of Modern Art: Painting, Sculpture, Architecture, Photography, New York, 1998, pl. 250, p. 457, illustrated in color and p. 447 (text)
Hans Scheugl, Das Absolute: Eine Ideengeschichte der Moderne, Vienna and New York, 1998, pp. 337-8, illustrated
Peter Schneemann, Who’s Afraid of the World: Die Strategie der Texte bei Barnett Newman und seinen Zeitgenossen, Quellen zur Kunst, 6, Freiburg, 1998, pp. 36 and 52-3 (text)
Exh. Cat. , Basel, Museum für Gegenwartskunst der Öffentlichen Kunstsammlung Basel und der Emanuel Hoffmann-Stiftung, Weiss: Skulpturen und Bilder des 20. Jahrhunderts aus der Offentlichen Kunstsammlung Basel und der Emanuel Hoffmann-Stiftung, 2001, p. 11 (text)
David Anfam, “Philadelphia and London: Barnett Newman,” The Burlington Magazine 144, no. 1194, September 2002, p. 584 (text)
Yve-Alain Bois, “Here to There and Back,” Artforum, March 2002, p. 106 (text)
Jane Burton, Who’s Afraid of Red Yellow and Blue, exhibition brochure, London, Tate Modern, 2002, p. 4 (text)
Arjen Fortuin, “Barnett Newman in Londen: Doe een stap naar voren,” NRC-Handelsblad, November 22, 2002, p. 22 (text)
Jean-Pierre Frimbois, “Barnett Newman du void au zip,” Art Actuel, September 2002, p. 89 (text)
Waldemar Januszczak, “Forget the Standard Line About Barnett Newman: The Stripes Are a Testament to His Spirituality,” The Sunday Times: Culture, September 292002, p. 11 (text)
Manuel Jover, “Barnett Newman: L’ouverture éclair,” Beaux Arts Magazine, no. 221, October 2002, p. 32 (text)
Michael Kimmelman, “Epiphany in a Vibrant Universe Depicting Nothing But Itself,” The New York Times, April 12, 2002, p. E35, illustrated
Jim Long, “In Search of Uriel: Barnett Newman,” The Brooklyn Rail, early summer 2002, p. 17 (text)
John McEwen, “Zippity Do Dah Zippity Day,” Telegraph, September 22, 2002, p. 7 (text)
Ossian Ward, “Perfection Unzipped,” Art Review 5, September 2002, p. 40 (text)
Richard Shiff, Carol C. Mancusi-Ungaro and Heidi Colsman-Freyberger, Barnett Newman: A Catalogue Raisonné, New Haven and London, 2004, cat. no. 3, pp. 152-3, illustrated in color

Catalogue Note

Profoundly independent and unwaveringly nonconformist, Barnett Newman is regarded as among the most inimitable artists of the Twentieth Century. A pioneer of a new conception of American art in the wake of the Second World War, Newman was distinctly influential on two fronts: first among his peers and later with the next generation of artists who sought the means to redefine and celebrate painting in their own time. Newman was deeply admired by his colleagues and friends, such as Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, Clyfford Still, and Adolph Gottlieb, as one of the great writers and observers during the inception of Abstract Expressionism in New York in the 1940s and early 1950s. His artistic philosophies were deeply rooted in the historic moment of transition in which he found himself, and often focused on shedding the tenets of Western European art history in favor of an unprecedented, distinctly American style. Genesis – The Break of 1946, one of the artist’s earliest paintings, is a brilliant exemplar of the burgeoning philosophical and conceptual theories that would come to inform the entirety of Newman’s celebrated oeuvre.

Genesis – The Break is the third painting recorded in the artist’s catalogue raisonné, as Newman destroyed all of his artistic efforts prior to 1944. Throughout his career Newman remained steadfastly fixated on performing his creative act freely, ultimately developing a groundbreaking style that enabled him to achieve his goal. He felt an inescapable need to liberate painting from its formal preconditions and conventional properties as an object. Thus he abandoned as many established devices of presentation and composition as he could identify. In an interview in 1963, Newman confirmed the consistency of his artistic project, almost twenty years after creating his first preserved paintings, stating: “I want my painting to separate itself from every object and from every art object that exists.” (the artist in a statement prepared for an interview with Lane Slate and aired by CBS, March 10, 1963) The artist’s mature works, which indubitably result from the compositional innovations witnessed in Genesis –The Break, are unique in an age defined by individuality; to an unprecedented degree, they lack precedent.

Genesis – The Break epitomizes the earliest development of Barnett Newman’s aesthetic of the ‘zip,’ a ubiquitous and defining stylistic feature of his painted oeuvre, and thus represents a historic moment in the course of twentieth-century art. Newman’s ‘zips’ are vertical bands that span the full height of his canvases, simultaneously uniting and dividing the composition. This remarkable painting’s composition includes three formal elements that were critical to Newman's output of this time: the disk, the tapered ray and the vertical band. Moreover this painting exemplifies Newman’s first use of the very distinctive hue of aquamarine turquoise that later became so central to a host of masterpieces such as Uriel, The Gate, and Onement VI. As a monumentally significant early painting of Barnett Newman’s vital career, Genesis – The Break stands as an indisputable arbiter of Abstract Expressionism and, accordingly, a new and iconic era of American art.

Following high school in Manhattan, Barnett Newman enrolled in City College in 1923 majoring in Philosophy. He always displayed an artistic sensibility, albeit more theoretical than practical for most of the 1930s, a tendency that was exhibited in 1933 when he ran for mayor of New York City on a ticket for education, the arts and cultural life. By 1942 Newman had already established his steadfast belief in a new American art, a view he extolled in a foreword he wrote for a counter-exhibition staged by the Artist Cultural Society against a juried exhibition held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The activist exhibition showed the work of forty-five contemporary artists, and Newman wrote that the pieces being shown constituted “a body of art that will adequately reflect the new America that is taking shape today and the kind of America that will, it is hoped, become the cultural center of the world.” (Barnett Newman, “American Modern Artists,” 1943, in John P. O’Neill, ed., Barnett Newman: Selected Writings and Interviews, New York, 1990, p. 29) This sentiment is a concise summary of the essential guiding principle of Newman’s artistic theory.

In the winter of 1943-44 Newman met the gallerist Betty Parsons, thus beginning a personal and professional relationship that would become crucially important for Newman’s career as an artist. Throughout the mid-1940s Newman conceptualized and curated exhibitions for Betty Parsons, first at the Wakefield Gallery and then at her eponymous gallery at East 57th Street. After a three-decade long period of artistic incubation, and perhaps due to inspiration gained from his organization of a Pre-Columbian art exhibition at the Wakefield Gallery, Newman created the first works of art that he would preserve in 1944. Throughout the latter half of the decade Newman’s thirst for originality continued unabated. He wrote his first essay for the influential arts quarterly The Tiger’s Eye, which was published by John and Ruth Stephan, the first owners of Genesis – The Break. The piece was titled “The First Man Was an Artist,” and in it Newman argued that Adam was an artist insofar as he attempted to become a creative being by eating from the Tree of Knowledge. Written in the exact same period as the conception of Genesis – The Break, this essay presents us with a literary complement to the work. Although Newman was never forthcoming with his views on current events in Europe during the 1940s, the war years brought with them a keen sense of the end of European civilization and the genesis of a new world order. By extension of his argument in “The First Man Was an Artist,” Newman was stating that all contemporary artists were like Adam, forging a new creative path independent of Western European precedent.

Critics who were puzzled by Newman’s work in the early 1950s sometimes regarded his paintings as philosophic statements made without artistic attributes, or conversely, as pure painting devoid of a subject.  His paintings, in truth, involve both spirit and nature, and Newman sought to instill in the viewer a profound sense of the spiritual. This did not imply that Newman was religious, but rather that he sought a profound faith in the role of the artist in attaining the highest realm to which a man could aspire. The central importance of Genesis – The Break to Barnett Newman’s celebrated corpus is undeniable. As the earliest example of the seminal 'zip' technique that would become his defining stylistic feature, and the ultimate expression of his passionately conceptual artistic practice, the present work occupies a place of incredible significance to the development of art history in the second half of the Twentieth Century.