- Nat Tate
- Bridge no. 114
- signed and titled
- pen and ink, ink and pencil
- 21 by 15cm.; 8½ by 6in.
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Nat Tate's series of 'Bridge' drawings reputedly ran to two hundred or more and he produced them periodically throughout his short working life. They were inspired by Hart Crane's famous poem The Bridge (1930) and almost all the drawings take a similar format. At the top is a stylized representation of a bridge – sometimes very simple, sometimes more complex (as in the present work). Below the bridge is a representation of water, or of flotsam and jetsam, that takes up the larger portion of the page. Tate was once quoted as saying: 'I like bridges, so strong, so simple – but imagine what flows in the river beneath' (Tate quoted in W. Boyd, Nat Tate: an American Artist 1928 - 1960, Bloombury London 2011, p.11).
Nat Tate was haunted by Crane's poem and indeed his suicide in 1960 is a replica of Crane's suicide in 1932. Crane jumped to his death from a cargo ship returning from Havana, Cuba to the U.S.A. Tate chose the Staten Island Ferry and the waters of the Hudson River. Neither the poet's nor the artist's body was ever found.
Tate rarely dated his bridge drawings but it has been suggested that No. 114 was executed some time in the early 1950s. There is, in some of the Bridge drawings, a clear influence of Paul Klee and we can see this here in the childish rendering of the cantilevered, multi-levelled bridge, the towers and the pennants. The Klee phase died out in the mid-1950s as other influences took over - Kurt Schwitters, Hiroshige and Abstract Expressionism. Tate knew most of the artists associated with that movement - Pollock, Kline, de Kooning - but he himself never truly abandoned figuration.
What makes Bridge no. 114 particularly rare and interesting, however, is that the water below the bridge is composed of smudged fingerprints - Nat Tate's thumb and forefinger dipped in ink and pressed to the paper. These marks - uniquely personal - are as close as we're ever likely to come to the physical presence of the artist himself.
We are grateful to William Boyd for his kind assistance with the cataloguing of the present work.
Boyd is the author of the fictional biography Nat Tate: An American Artist 1928 – 1960. The biography was received with great acclaim by art world aficionados in New York when it was first published in 1998. It was later revealed that Tate was one of Boyd's own creations whose name is a combination of National Gallery and the Tate Gallery. Tate has now achieved legendary status, his artwork executed by the author himself. Sotheby's is delighted to present the very first work by Tate ever to be offered at auction, sold to benefit the Artists' General Benevolent Institution.