Lot 39
  • 39

Lee Krasner

800,000 - 1,000,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • Lee Krasner
  • Forest
  • signed and dated 1955
  • oil on canvas and collage on board
  • 50 x 20 in. 127 x 50.8 cm.


Stable Gallery, New York
Private Collection, Chicago
Sotheby's, New York, February 27, 1985, Lot 35
Robert Miller, New York/Jason McCoy Inc., New York
Christie's, New York, November 16, 2006, Lot 122
Acquired by the present owner from the above


New York, Stable Gallery, Lee Krasner Collages, September - October 1955 (titled Forest No. 2)
Chicago, The Art Institute of Chicago, LXII American Exhibition: Paintings, Sculptures, January - March 1957, no. 71 (titled Forest No. 2)
New York, Robert Miller Gallery, Lee Krasner Collages 1939 - 1984, October - November 1986, n.p., illustrated in color
Houston, Meredith Long & Co., Lee Krasner Collages, March - April 1987
New York, Dia Art Foundation, Art Against AIDS, September - October 1987


"Art  News of the Year," Art News Annual, 1957, p. 170, illustrated (titled Forest No. 2)
Jane Bell, "Review: Lee Krasner at Robert Miller," Art News, March 1987, p. 147 (text reference)
Exh. Cat., Bern, Kunstmuseum Bern, Lee Krasner - Jackson Pollock: Künstlerpaare-Künstlerfreunde: Dialogue d'artistes-résonances, 1989, p. 70 (text reference)
Robert Hobbs, Lee Krasner, New York, 1993, fig. 87, p. 101, illustrated
Ellen G. Landau, Lee Krasner: A Catalogue Raisonné, New York, 1995, cat. no. 275, p. 137, illustrated in color


This work is in very good condition overall. There are intermittent losses at the edges of the masonite located 6 ½ - 7 in. up from the bottom left corner, 2 ¾ - 8 ¼ in. down from the top left corner and at the lower right and upper left extreme corner. The paper collage pieces are well adhered with resin applied by the artist that has yellowed slightly in areas of heaviest application. There are stable drying cracks in areas of heavier impasto in the painted areas. There is a possible old loss 7 ½ - 8 in. from the left edge and 1 ½ - 2 in. from the top. Under ultra violet light there are small areas of inpainting as follows: 6 1/8 – 6 5/8 in. from the top and 3 1/4 – 3 ¾ in. from the right, 6 1/8 – 7 ¼ in. from the top and 8 1/8 in. from the right, 16 5/8 – 17 7/8 in. from the top and 6 ½ in. from the right, 7 ¼ in. from the left and 20 – 21 in. from the top, 17 1/8 – 17 ½ in. from the bottom and 6 ½ in. from the left, 7 ½ in. from the left and 17 5/8 – 18 in. from the top. This work is framed under Plexiglas in a metal strip frame, painted grey, with a white 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

Lee Krasner is now considered an influential and significant American artist of the mid-20th century, yet much of her most insightful work was the result of her struggle for identity and recognition in the 1950s New York art world.  Although she would enjoy critical acclaim by the mid-1950s, Krasner 's 1951 show at the Betty Parsons Gallery in New York was not well received, in stark contrast to the booming success of Krasner's famous husband, Jackson Pollock. For the next two years, Krasner harbored and suppressed her feelings and produced few new works. Instead, Krasner supported and promoted her husband's career and position as a leader of the group of New York Abstract Expressionists. Krasner grappled with the two conflicting identities of wife and independent artist, and her internal struggle virtually silenced her art until 1953.

In an effort to cope with her identity struggle and her increasingly strained marriage due to Pollock's alcoholism, Krasner began to channel her frustrations into a new artistic technique:  "It started in 1953 – I had a studio hung solidly with drawings...floor to ceiling all around. Walked in one day, hated it all, took it down, tore everything and threw it on the floor, and when I went back...it was seemingly a very destructive act. I don't know why I did it...  When I opened the door and walked in, the floor was solidly covered with these torn drawings that I had left and they began to interest me and I started collaging... I took my canvases and cut and began doing the same thing." (Robert Hobbs, Lee Krasner, New York, 1993, p. 113).

Krasner attacked the canvases from her 1951 Parsons Gallery show and mixed those scraps with fragments of Pollock's old paintings, creating a wholly new technique and lexicon of imagery. This destructive and reconstructive process of defacing one canvas to compose a new one was transformative and proved therapeutic for Krasner. The inherently violent and aggressive act of shredding her canvas perhaps allowed a greater sense of release and catharsis for the artist.

After discarding the scraps of old canvases into a pile on the floor, Krasner noticed "something exciting was happening." (Cindy Nemser,  Art Talk: Conversations with 12 Women Artists, New York, 1975). Organic shapes and forms began to emerge, which provided the foundations for her fully realized collages. Krasner describes this epiphany as almost accidental, as if she simply stumbled upon this technique haphazardly. This element of chance introduces the surrealist notion of automatism as a release or projection of the subconscious, which Krasner understood well from her studies of Surrealism in the 1920s. Krasner thus joined a pantheon of Modernist artists in Europe and America who found artistic liberation in the medium of collage.

In Forest, executed in 1954-1955, Krasner mixes oil paint with shreds of paper and canvas to emulate abundant vegetation and an abstracted tangle of trees. The verticality of Forest's composition mirrors the shape of soaring trees, and the dappled gray, black, and ochre hues mimic sunlight piercing through a canopy of leaves in a forest. As critic Fairfield Porter describes, the work resembles a "nature photograph magnified."  (Ellen G. Landau, Lee Krasner: A Catalogue Raisonné, New York, 1995, p. 312).  The canvas is built up with dense layers of paint that give the surface a rough, thick quality. The texture of the overlapping materials emphasizes the theme of diachronicity in Krasner's work, or the "layering and interpenetration of time." (Ibid., p. 13). By layering these reused materials, Krasner is referencing moments of her past œuvre, of her husband's paintings and of their fraught relationship. Her continuous and steadfast search for identity is played out in the built up, reconstructed canvas of Forest. As a result, Forest can be read as a study in the multi-dimensional life and career of Lee Krasner.

The collage series of 1953-1955 culminated with Krasner's solo exhibition at the Stable Gallery in 1955 which included Forest. The works in the 1955 show were bolder, more confident than her previous style, and earned Krasner critical acclaim and recognition amongst the New York Abstract Expressionists. Krasner's success, however, did not improve the state of her marriage, and only one year later, Pollock was killed in a fatal car crash. Forest and the collage series serve as a foreboding moment, a snapshot of time that encompassed both artistic liberation and personal struggle.