Lot 12
  • 12

Jackson Pollock

4,000,000 - 6,000,000 USD
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  • Jackson Pollock
  • Number 12A, 1948: Yellow, Gray, Black
  • signed and dated 48

  • enamel on gesso ground on paper
  • 22 3/4 x 30 3/4 in. 58 x 78 cm.


Betty Parsons, New York (acquired from the artist)
Christie's New York, Contemporary Art from the Estate of Betty Parsons, November 9, 1983, lot 362
James Goodman Gallery, New York and Galerie Beyeler, Basel (acquired from the above sale)
Andrew Crispo Gallery, New York (acquired from the above in 1983) 
Sotheby's New York, November 4, 1987, lot 122G
Acquired by the present owner from the above


New York, Betty Parsons Gallery, Jackson Pollock, January - February 1949, cat. no. 12
New York, Museum of Modern Art, Children's Holiday Carnival of Modern Art, December 1949 - January 1950
Urbana, University of Illinois, Contemporary American Painting, February - April 1950
Venice, American Pavilion, Biennale de Venezia, XXV exposition biennale internationale des beaux-arts, June - October 1950
Ithaca, Willard Straight Hall, Cornell University; Oswego, State University of New York Teachers College; Manchester, Currier Gallery of Art; South Hadley, Mt. Holyoke College, Calligraphic and Geometric: Two Recent Linear Tendencies in American Painting, December 1953 - May 1954 (This traveling exhibition, begun in October 1950, was organized by the Museum of Modern Art, New York. This work replaced Number 31, 1949 in the final venues as cited)
Ithaca, Andrew Dickson White Museum of Art, Cornell University, Pioneers of the New Image in Contemporary Painting, 1943 - 1948, Spring 1959
Oberlin, Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College; Macon, Mercer University; Reno, University of Nevada; Tacoma, Tacoma Art League; Washington, D.C., Washington Gallery of Modern Art; Oswego, State University of New York; Bloomfield Hills, Cranbrook Academy of Art; Northfield, Carleton College; Cedar Rapids, Coe College; Claremont, Pomona College, U.S. Government Art Projects: Some Distinguished Alumni, February 1963 - February 1964 (organized by the Museum of Modern Art, New York)
Tokyo, National Museum of Modern Art; Kyoto, National Museum of Modern Art; New Delhi, Lalit Kala Academy; Melbourne, National Gallery of Victoria; Sydney, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Two Decades of American Painting, October 1966 - August 1967 (organized by the Museum of Modern Art, New York International Council)
New York, Museum of Modern Art; Los Angeles, Los Angeles County Museum, Jackson Pollock, April - September 1967, cat. no 139, p. 101, illustrated
Minneapolis, Walker Art Center; College Park, University of Maryland; Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art; Seattle, Seattle Art Museum; Baltimore, Baltimore Museum of Art; Montreal, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts; Waltham, Brandeis University, Rose Art Museum, Jackson Pollock: Works on Paper, February 1968 - February 1969, cat. no. 37 (organized by the Department of Drawings and Prints, Museum of Modern Art, New York)
Montclair, Montclair Art Museum, Selections from the Betty Parsons Collection, January - February 1972, cat. no. 11
Oxford, Museum of Modern Art; Düsseldorf, Städtische Kunsthalle; Lisbon, Gulbenkian Foundation; Paris, Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris; Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, New York, The Museum of Modern Art, Jackson Pollock: Drawing into Painting, April 1979 - March 1980, p. 50, illustrated
Southampton, Parrish Art Museum; Storrs, William Benton Museum of Art, University of Connecticut; New York, Zabriskie Gallery, 17 Abstract Artists of East Hampton - The Pollock Years, 1946-56, July - December 1980, cat. no. 48, illustrated on the cover and on the invitation
New York, Rosa Esman Gallery, A Curator's Choice: A Tribute to Dorothy Miller, February - March 1982
New York, Betty Parsons Gallery, Jackson Pollock Exhibition, April - May 1983
Davenport, Davenport Art Gallery, American Works on Paper: 100 Years of American Art History, (exhibition organized by Smith Kramer Art Connections, toured extensively through the United States), 1983 - 1985, cat. no. 96, p. 103, illustrated in color
New York, Museum of Modern Art; London, Tate Gallery, Jackson Pollock, November 1998 - June 1999, pl. 132, p. 236, illustrated in color


"Jackson Pollock - Is He the Greatest Living Painter in the United States?" Life Magazine, August 8, 1949, p. 42, illustrated in color
Bernice Rose, Jackson Pollock: Works on Paper, New York, 1969, p. 69, illustrated
F.V. O'Connor and E.V. Thaw, Jackson Pollock: A Catalogue Raisonné of Paintings, Drawings, and Other Works, volume 2, New Haven and London, 1978, cat. no. 200, p. 21, illustrated
Leonhard Emmerling, Jackson Pollock 1912 - 1956, Cologne, 2003, p. 72, illustrated in color and p. 87, illustrated (reproduction of 1949 Life Magazine article)
Exh. Cat., Milwaukee, Milwaukee Art Museum, Andy Warhol: The Last Decade, 2009, fig. 39, p. 52, illustrated in color (reproduction of 1949 Life Magazine article)


This painting is in very good condition. Please contact the Contemporary Art Department at 212-606-7254 for a condition report prepared by Martina Yamin. The painting is framed in a black strip frame with a silver face behind Plexiglas with a float.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

Jackson Pollock was one of the most influential masters of the 20th century, and his rare and exuberant Number 12A, 1948: Yellow, Gray, Black dates from his most creative and transformative period. From the late 1940s until her death in 1982, this painting was in the collection of his second New York dealer, Betty Parsons, and has been extensively exhibited beginning at Parsons' gallery in 1949. Number 12A, 1948 was also one of three works illustrated in the infamous August 8, 1949 Life magazine article titled "Jackson Pollock – Is he the greatest living painter in the United States?" that inaugurated Pollock's early and eternal role as a leading figure in American art. The painting exemplifies the innovation that most defines Pollock's achievement as embodied in the phrase "drawing into painting", coined by William Rubin in 1967 to describe Pollock's liberation of line from figuration into abstraction. As an iconic figure, Pollock's protean myth almost obscures the fact of his monumental achievement in creating an independent aesthetic that revolutionized art during and after his lifetime. However, fellow artists have no difficulty looking beyond the legend of Pollock's artistic struggle and public antics to appreciate the art itself. With works such as Number 12A, 1948, the mixture of daring and assurance exhibited by the dynamic interplay of the rivulets of paint remain a marvel of controlled liberation.

The distinctions between artistic practices did not exist for Pollock whose ground-breaking technique married paint to the freedom of drafsmanship in order to express his innermost artistic impulse. Whether Pollock's surface was a monumental canvas or paper, his pursuit was immediacy and the fluid union of material and creativity as one. In his oeuvre, neither brush nor any other tool applied paint to his support surface; instead, Pollock placed the paper or canvas on a flat surface and with his quick wrist and muscular flowing movements, dripped, splattered and pooled paint from the can, creating complex, "all-over" patterns of linear webs. In the mid-1940s, Pollock's compositions arrived at this edge-to-edge abstraction, focusing on the interplay of colored lines and dense layers. By 1948, Pollock's ease and confidence with both his technique and aesthetic is evident in the more open and graceful compositions in paintings such as Number 12 A, 1948 which combine bravura passages with a delicacy of touch and command. The more open tracery of Pollock's line, often extending beyond the picture plane, ironically adds spatial depth to his work and a thrilling sense of vitality that is aptly characterized by Brice Marden in an informal 1989 talk at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in discussing a 1950 painting titled One. "Energy is drawn into One as it's drawn into a lot of his work. There is the physical energy to make the mark, and then there's the intense energy that comes out of the painting. ...you see that every layer is applied in a different way, and you understand that those are drawing decisions as well as painting decisions, so that in the end you see this as an exquisitely drawn painting, and you recognize that Jackson Pollock was a masterful draftsman. When you focus on looking at a painting, always the thing to look for is how well the person draws, and drawing well is a combination of energy and control." (as quoted in Exh. Cat., New York, Dia Center for the Arts, Brice Marden: Cold Mountain, 1992, p. 42)

As Pollock famously stated in 1950, "I approach painting in the same sense as one approaches drawing; that is, it's direct.''  (interview by William Wright, Summer 1950 as quoted in Abstract Expressionism: Creators and Critics, ed. Clifford Ross, New York, 1990, p. 144)  Number 12A, 1948 belongs to a group of paintings in which Pollock further blurred any distinction between technique and material in his quest for pure abstraction. He did not distinguish between paintings on canvas or on paper, sometimes mounted to board, which often shared equal space in his gallery exhibitions during his lifetime. Curators, writers and the artist's catalogue raisonné have followed his lead ever since. By late 1947/1948, he could afford higher quality heavy wove paper in larger sheets measuring roughly 22 x 30 ½ inches, and referred to as "Imperial" size, that would satisfy the same impulse for scale and freedom of movement that animated his move toward large-scale canvases. Pollock also employed a variety of paint ranging from the inky black enamel to metallic aluminum that, as noted in the 1949 Life magazine caption for Number 12A, 1948, Pollock, used for "an exciting textural contrast." (p. 42)

Most significantly, Pollock also put gesso to brilliant use in the series of 1948 paintings on "Imperial" size paper which include Number 12A, 1948 as well as works in the collections of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Yale University Art Gallery, the Metropolitan Museum in New York, the Frederick R. Weisman Foundation, Los Angeles, Tate Gallery in London and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond. Long a priming agent of historical tradition on canvas and wood, the use of gesso gives Number 12A, 1948 a white, slightly chalky surface. Pollock's next step was to drip shiny viscous black enamel which bound well to the still-moist gesso, producing a liberating, yet controlled co-mingling of the two mediums in a vibrating, softly blurred edge to the solid black. This delicate touch contrasts wonderfully with the muscular pools and swooping drips of yellow and shiny aluminum gray that followed, demonstrating his genius for scintillating color, rhythmic energy and painterly improvisation.

Betty Parsons opened her gallery on East 57th Street in September 1946 with the support of friends who included artists such as Barnett Newman, and her timing was extremely fortuitous. In 1947, Peggy Guggenheim, the doyenne of the Art of this Century gallery where Pollock had debuted in 1943, had decided to close. Many of her artists, most notably Jackson Pollock, made the move to Parson's gallery, including William Baziotes, Hans Hofmann, Robert Motherwell, Barnett Newman and Clyfford Still. Pollock received a monthly stipend from Guggenheim and Parsons continued the arrangement, sometimes taking works of art in payment for debts to the gallery. Parsons became one of the premiere gallerists on the front lines of the avant garde movement in New York, and  "her gallery was a flagship of Modernism just at the moment when American art declared its primacy. She figures prominently in the establishment of countless artists who now are regarded as geniuses and iconic figures in the canons of abstraction.'' Parsons was an artist as well and reveled in art's potential to illuminate humanity's future by opening the public's mind and sensibilities. She recognized Pollock as her greatest champion in this vanguard. "Pollock's new paintings, swept with movement, were solid networks of thick enamel. Betty rejoiced in the strong pattern and abiding sense of design and structure that suffused Jackson's paintings. `Idiots!' she would shout at or about anyone failing to see Pollock's merits as a painter. `Why can't they see the great, great order here? Why can't they know art when they see it in its purest state.' She believed that Jackson Pollock, in his daring and in his inevitable paean to order, had achieved a higher greatness, to her way of thinking..." (Lee Hall, Betty Parsons: Artist, Dealer, Collector, New York, 1991, pp. 90-95).   While contemplating Number 12A, 1948 in her collection, Parsons could observe Pollock's manifest contribution to the limitless possibilities of abstract art that she most admired.