The monumental Quartet #1 features the intensity and dynamism of the painterly surfaces most celebrated in Alfred Leslie's Abstract Expressionist compositions. Throughout the 1950s, Leslie was considered a seminal figure of the New York School's younger Second Generation along with Michael Goldberg, Joan Mitchell and Grace Hartigan. In 1951, Leslie participated in the fabled and influential artist-organized Ninth Street Show and in 1952 he had his first solo exhibition at Tibor de Nagy Gallery where he would subsequently exhibit throughout the 1950s. In 1959, he was included in the ground-breaking 16 Americans exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art.
Unlike some of his contemporaries, Leslie worked directly on canvas frequently without producing preparatory studies or sketches. The artist layered heavy pigment using thick brushstrokes and overlapped squared-off areas of color much like the work of Hans Hofmann in whose class Leslie had modeled at the Art Students' League. With abandon and gusto, Leslie splashed paint like fireworks exploding across the blocked areas of impasto. His palette was equally bold and virile as Quartet #1 blazes with verdant greens, flanked by intense yellows and punctuated by glimpses of red that balance the softer eddies of swirling blues in the opposite quadrant. The two-by-two quadrant format was perhaps inspired by Leslie's earlier collages and the stacking of individual panels has a similar flexibility and variation as the parts coalesce into a unified whole. In Quartet #1, each block of color and each panel is audaciously assembled to forge an intricate and harmonious opus.
Quartet #1 also features the two parallel narrow vertical zips of color – here in white – that were a signature motif for Leslie in his expressionist style. In 1960, historian Dore Ashton reviewed a show at the Martha Jackson Gallery where Allan Stone would later acquire Quartet #1. Ashton considered Leslie's work in the context of an evolution away from his Abstract Expressionist forerunners: "While Mr. Leslie has taken the foot-wide stroke and casual way of applying paint initiated by Mr. de Kooning, he has lately sought to endow his huge canvases with a calm enforced by horizontal and vertical structures" (Dore Ashton, "Art: Two Abstractionists," New York Times, January 6, 1960).
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