LIFE magazine catapulted Jackson Pollock to national fame when they asked the provocative question in their August 1949 issue, Is he the greatest living painter in the United States? Pollock had been pushing the boundaries of abstract painting with a radical new approach since executing his first drip painting in 1947 and over the next two years would hone his approach into one of the most disruptive artistic innovations the 20th Century had ever seen.
JACKSON POLLOCK IN 1949. (PHOTO BY MARTHA HOLMES/THE LIFE PICTURE COLLECTION/GETTY IMAGES).
Executed in the same momentous year as the LIFE magazine story, Pollock’s Number 32 is one of a small number of paintings the artist made that more fully explore the subtleties of the drip technique. Pollock created just 16 drip paintings on paper –many of which he then mounted on Masonite, canvas, or composition board – in 1949, and Number 32 is one of eight that feature aluminum paint, creating a lustrous shimmer highlighting the artist’s elaborate gestural movements. Boasting a fully painted surface with intricate layers of dripped and poured oil, enamel and aluminum paint, the work has one of the most complete and richly covered surfaces of the entire series.
1948-49 was a wildly productive period for Pollock and generated three important exhibitions at The Betty Parsons Gallery. The third exhibition in November of 1949 was comprised solely of works that had been executed in that same year, and among them was Number 32. Reviewing the exhibition in The New Yorker, art critic Robert Coates wrote, “They seem to me the best painting he has yet done.”
The intimately scaled and vibrantly dramatic Number 32 will be unveiled at Sotheby’s Hong Kong galleries on 29 March before travelling to London and Los Angeles. The exceptionally rare work is among a limited group of works that are represented in prestigious collections including that of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York and The Munson-Williams Proctor Art Institute, Utica, New York. The work will be offered in Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening Auction on 16 May.