Lot 17
  • 17

Barnett Newman

30,000,000 - 40,000,000 USD
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  • Barnett Newman
  • Onement VI
  • signed and dated 1953 in dark blue paint on lower right corner
  • oil on canvas
  • 102 x 120 in. 259.1 x 304.8 cm


Collection Annalee Newman (gift of the artist, December 1953)
Mr. and Mrs. Frederick R. Weisman, Beverly Hills, California (purchased 1961)
Weisman Family Collection, Richard L. Weisman, New York
Private Collection, New York (acquired from the above in 1990)
Acquired by the present owner in 2000


New York, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, American Abstract Expressionists and Imagists, October - December 1961, cat. no. 42, p. 20, illustrated in color
Seattle, World’s Fair, Fine Arts Pavilion, Art Since 1950, April - October 1962, cat. no. 46, illustrated in color and p. 40 (text)
Los Angeles, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, New York School, The First Generation: Paintings of the 1940s and 1950s, June - August 1965, cat. no. 72, illustrated in color
Pasadena, Pasadena Art Museum, Barnett Newman, January 29, 1905 - July 4, 1970, July - August 1970, cat. no. 7
Los Angeles, The Museum of Contemporary Art, The First Show: Painting and Sculpture from Eight Collections 1940 - 1980, November 1983 - February 1984, p. 159, illustrated in color
New York, Marisa del Re Gallery, Masters of the Fifties: American Abstract Painting from Pollock to Stella, October- December 1985, illustrated in color on the cover of the catalogue and p. 9 (text)
Fort Lauderdale, Museum of Art, An American Renaissance: Painting and Sculpture Since 1940, January - March 1986, pl. 23, p. 57, illustrated in color and p. 30 (text)
Los Angeles, The Museum of Contemporary Art, Individuals: A Selected History of Contemporary Art 1945 - 1986, December 1986 - January 1988, p. 65, illustrated in color


Lawrence Alloway, “Easel Painting at the Guggenheim,” Art International 5, no. 10, December 1961, p. 28, illustrated and pp. 27, 29 and 31 (text)
Jack Kroll, “American Painting and the Convertible Spiral” [concerning group exhibition at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum], Artnews 60, no. 7, November 1961, p. 36, illustrated in color and pp. 66-68 (text)
Irving Sandler, “In the Art Galleries,” New York Post, 29 October 1961, magazine p. 12 (text)
Dorothy Gees Seckler, “Frontiers of Space,” Art in America 50, no. 2, Summer 1962, p. 85, illustrated in color and p. 83 (text) [erroneously dated 1932]
“Seattle’s World Fair: Art Since 1960: American,” Artforum 1, no. 4, September 1962, p. 36, illustrated in color
“The Art of Today,” Response, Princeton, 1963, p. 36, illustrated in color
Harold Rosenberg, “Barnett Newman: A Man of Controversy and Spiritual Grandeur,” Vogue, 15 February 1963, pp. 134-135, illustrated in color (the artist and the present work in his studio)
John Canaday, “Two Exhibitions Begin Guggenheim’s Season,” The New York Times, 17 September 1964, p. 50 (text)
Philip Leider, “The New York School in Los Angeles,” Artforum 4, no. 1, September 1965, p. 11 (text)
Lucy Lippard, “New York Letter,” Art International 10, no. 6, Summer 1966, p. 108 (text)
Marisa Volpi Orlandini, “La forma viviente de Barnett Newman” Marcatré [Genoa], nos. 34–36, December 1967, p. 35, illustrated
Barbara M. Reise, “The Stance of Barnett Newman,” Studio International 179, no. 919, February 1970, p. 54 (text)
Irving Sandler, The Triumph of American Painting: A History of Abstract Expressionism, New York and Washington, D.C., 1970, pl. XVI, illustrated in color and p. 191 (text)
Lawrence Alloway, “Color, Culture, The Stations: Notes on the Barnett Newman Memorial Exhibition,” Artforum 10, no. 4, December 1971, p. 32 (text)
Exh. Cat., New York, The Museum of Modern Art (and travelling), Barnett Newman, 1971, p. 80 (text) and illustrated in color on the cover (the artist and the present work in his studio) [paperbound edition]
Jeanne Siegel, “Around Barnett Newman,” Artnews 70, no. 6, October 1971, p. 61 (text, in conversation with Robert Murray)
Thomas B. Hess, “The Force of Barnett Newman,” Intellectual Digest, June 1972, p. 45 (text)
Robert Rosenblum, Modern Painting and the Northern Romantic Tradition: Friedrich to Rothko, London, 1975, pp. 210-211 (text)
Harold Rosenberg, Barnett Newman, Contemporary artists series, New York, 1978 (reprinted 1994), pp. 67 and 78 (text); pl. 8, p. 13 (the artist and the present work in his studio) and pl. 80, p. 112, illustrated in color
Harold Rosenberg, “La sculpture de Barnett Newman,” Art Press, Paris, no. 35, March 1980, p. 12 (text)
Franz Meyer, “Zur Gültigkeit des Christusbildes in der ungegenständlichen Kunst: Die Kreuzwegstationen Barnett Newmans,” Kirche und Kunst, no. 2, June 1982, p. 64 (text)
Marcia S. Weisman, “Collecting, Sharing, and Promoting Contemporary Art in California,” Completed 1983 under the auspices of the Oral History Program, University of California, Los Angeles (bound trypescript), pp. 460-461 (text)
Jeanne Siegel, Artwords: Discourse on the 60s and 70s, Ann Arbor, 1985, pp. 42-62 (text) [reprint of the author's October 1971 article in Artnews]
Lynne Cooke, “Robert Mangold: Frames of Reference,” in Exh. Cat., London, Lisson Gallery, Robert Mangold: Attic Series I–VI, 1990, fig. 1, p. 11, illustrated and p. 9 (text)
Patrick Negri, “Signs of Being: A Study of the Religious Significance of the Art of Barnett Newman, Jackson Pollock, and Mark Rothko,” Th.D. thesis, Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, California, 1990, pp. 158-159 (text)
John P. O'Neill, ed. Barnett Newman: Selected Writings and Interviews, Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1992, illustrated in color on the cover (detail, the artist and the present work)
Richard Francis, “Barnett Newman,” in Exh. Cat., Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art, Negotiating Rapture: The Power of Art to Transform Lives, 1996, p. 141 (text)
Molly McNickle, “The Mind and Art of Barnett Newman,” Ph.D. dissertation, University of Pennsylvania, 1996, p. 237 (text)
James Meyer, Minimalism: Art and Polemics in the Sixties, New Haven and London, 2001, p. 67, illustrated in color
David Anfam, “Philadelphia and London: Barnett Newman,” The Burlington Magazine 144, no. 1194, September 2002, p. 583 (text)
Exh. Cat., Philadelphia, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Barnett Newman, 2002, pl. no. 67, p. 98, illustrated in color; pp. 55, 99 and 160 (text); and p. 328 (in the chronology prepared by Melissa Ho)
Melissa Ho, ed., Reconsidering Barnett Newman: A Symposium at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, p. xiii, illustrated (detail, the artist and the present work), p. 94, note 13 and p. 119 (text)
Richard Shiff, Carol C. Mancuso-Ungaro and Heidi Colsman-Freyberger, Barnett Newman: A Catalogue Raisonné, New York and New Haven, 2004, cat. no. 59, pp. 250- 51, illustrated in color; fig. 1, p. 2, illustrated (the artist in his studio with the present work); fig. 54, p. 57, illustrated in color; pp. 58, 78, 123-124 and 137 (text)


This painting is in excellent condition overall. Pleasecontact the Contemporary Art department at 212-606-7254 for the condition report prepared by Terrence Mahon. The canvas is framed in a metal strip frame with a small float, painted black.
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

Onement VI by Barnett Newman overwhelms and seduces the viewer with the totality of its sensual, cascading washes of vibrant blue coexisting with Newman’s vertical “Sign” of the human presence, his iconic and revolutionary “zip.”  As a portal to the sublime, the limitless realm of sumptuous color envelops the viewer and brings life to Newman’s assertion that his monumental canvases be experienced up close rather than from a distance.  The demarcation of the zip, in its placement, form and complementary hue of light blue, serves both a temporal and spatial purpose in the expansive and personalized experience of this masterpiece of Newman’s aesthetic. By far the most momentous in scale of the six paintings of the Onement series, Onement VI is also one of only two of this title to be held in private hands. Annalee Newman gifted Onement I (1948) – the sister painting that so dramatically altered the course of Newman’s oeuvre – to the Museum of Modern Art, New York in 1992, where it joined Onement III (1949), a clear demonstration of the importance of this innovative group of paintings to the canon of modern art. Onement II (1948) and Onement IV (1949) both entered the collections of the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford and the Allen Memorial Museum in Oberlin as early as the 1960s. Onement VI was gifted by the artist to his wife, Annalee, in 1953 and was later acquired by the prestigious collectors Frederick and Marcia Weisman in 1961, the same year that the Newmans lent the painting to the influential show at The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum titled Abstract Expressionists and Imagists. Onement I was the first canvas in which Newman’s zip manifested and is the only consistent trait of the eponymous series that includes canvases of differing colors and scale; the poetic and primal zip was the core of Newman’s ambition to create paintings free of objects, dogma, precedence or referential subject matter. Along with other heroic artists of the Twentieth Century, Newman wanted to regenerate art and society through the invention of new forms of expression that could capture the ineffable essence of existence. Onement VIand its fellow paintings are not representational – they convey a state of being and communion.

Regarded as among the most independent and courageous artists of the Twentieth Century, Barnett Newman was distinctly influential at two critical junctures in American art: first among his peers and later with the next generation of artists who sought the means to redefine and celebrate painting in their own time. One of the great writers and philosophers during the creation of Abstract Expressionism in the 1940s and early 1950s, Newman was deeply admired by his colleagues and friends such as Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, Clyfford Still and Adolph Gottlieb. As an organizer of exhibitions for the newly opened Betty Parsons Gallery in 1946, Newman played a critical role in the advancement of their careers; through his introductions, Rothko and Still joined Parsons in 1946 followed by Pollock in 1947, solidifying Parson’s gallery as the new forum for American avant-garde art upon the closure of Peggy Guggenheim’s Art of This Century in spring 1947. Newman showed his own work with Parsons in his first and second one-man shows in 1950 and 1951, yet the public and critical attention that had come to his comrades was to be deferred for Newman which was a tacit acknowledgement of the radical nature and unique boldness of his painterly vision. Newman had withdrawn from the Parsons Gallery – and all commercial art endeavors - after the 1951 show when critic Clement Greenberg, the great proponent of Pollock since 1943, wrote a 1952 article in Paris Review which included a belated admiration of Newman’s exhibitions that “displayed both nerve and conviction” and declared the painter “to be an important as well as original painter.” (excerpted from Clement Greenberg, Art and Culture: Critical Essays, Boston, 1961, p. 150)

Among the works in Newman’s 1951 show was one of his great masterpieces, Vir Heroicus Sublimis (1950-51, Museum of Modern Art, New York) which, at 18 feet in length, is a grandiloquent statement of the revolution of Newman’s work which began with the artist’s first zip in Onement I which is only roughly two feet high. As he recounted in an interview in 1967, “I’d done this painting [Onement I, 1948] and stopped in order to find out what I had done, and I actually lived with that painting for almost a year trying to understand it. I realized that I’d made a statement which was affecting me and which was, I suppose the beginning of my present life, because from then on I had to give up any relation to nature as seen. .. I remove myself from nature, but I do not remove myself from life.” (Interview with David Sylvester in New York on March 3, 1967 as cited in John P. O’Neill, ed., Barnett Newman: Selected Writings and Interviews, Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1990, p. 255) With these words, Newman concisely memorialized his commitment to pure painting as a totality of transcendence, devoid of subject matter aside from the belief in the visual and spiritual phenomena of his creations so beautifully embodied by Onement VI of 1953. Newman recognized that his aesthetic ideas had been at last given form and his own unique pictorial language had been realized. Aided by his move to a larger studio at 110 Watt Street in August 1950, Newman’s paintings expanded in scale as the grounds, voids, rhythms and zips spill beyond the edges of his canvas to encompass the viewer in a spiritual dialogue.  The ambitious size of paintings such as Onement VI, which at the time was not accommodating for most homes or even galleries, was not however related simply to mere measurements or illusionistic depth, as Ann Temkin observed in her essay for the 2002 retrospective of Newman’s work in Philadelphia: “Newman, however, always talked in terms of scale, not size….Newman’s paintings prove that the dynamics on which they depend for success could operate on very little surface. What counted was the emotional resonance – the perfect adjustment of a color and the size and shape of its extent and to what neighbored it.” (Exh. Cat., Philadelphia, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Barnett Newman, 2002 p. 42)

In Newman’s devotion to a single color and reductive use of demarcation with his sparsely employed zips, his work was deemed provocative and shocking, even among his fellow artists at the time of his 1950 and 1951 exhibitions; yet by the time of the first public appearance of Onement VI at The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in 1961, Newman’s enigmatic works had struck a chord with a breed of younger artists who investigated the future of painting as Abstract Expressionism waned and the movements of Minimalist, Conceptual and Process art were in ascendance along with Pop art. By the late 1950s, Newman had begun to show his work again and his 1959 exhibition at French & Co. in New York was a revelation to artists such as Frank Stella. His banded Black Paintings, begun the same year, inaugurated the era of Minimalism in paint, and claimed a kindred spirit with Newman’s prescient work; yet the intent of the artists were diametrically opposed. For Stella, his paint was paint, his canvas an object, his bands methodical; for Newman, paintings transcend their objectness and his zips flicker with portent and presence. The subtlety of the surface of Onement VI is simultaneously voluptuous and diaphanous, proving in its sensuous evocation of atmosphere that Newman was as great a colorist as Rothko or Richard Diebenkorn. The zips were created by masking tape that reserved the area for the vertical band, and Newman welcomed the chance effects of bleeding that lend the zips their simultaneous sense of void and substance. As Richard Shiff noted in the catalogue raisonné of Newman’s paintings, Clement Greenberg had Onement VI in mind when he wrote of Newman: “If he uses his skill, it is to suppress the evidence of it. …Other contemporary painting begins to look fussy.” (Excerpted from The Collected Essays of Clement Greenberg, Vol. 4: Modernism with a Vengeance, 1957-1969) Shiff further elaborates on the distinction between Newman’s “disposition” of his zips and colors, as opposed to schematic composition. “Despite the generous scale of Onement VI …bleeding along the taped edge becomes visually prominent, probably because it is much more pronounced toward the top of the band than at the bottom. This unevenly distributed feature creates something of a tapered effect that catches the eye, an anomalous element in an otherwise symmetrical image. Yet this anomaly belongs to, coheres with, the painting as much as any other feature …As Newman said of perceiving the human face, it requires no scrutiny, no differentiation of parts, just a vision of the integrated whole.” (Richard Shiff, Carol C. Mancusi-Ungaro  and Heidi Colsman-Freyberger, Barnett Newman: A Catalogue Raisonné, New York, New Haven and London, 2004, p. 58)

With its title, Onement VI honors Newman’s quest for the totality of the art object, evoking emotional and spiritual resonance with essential and organic features. Newman’s aesthetic philosophy was expressed in his greatest essay on abstract art, “The Plasmic Image”, which was published posthumously. In this lengthy treatise, Newman outlined the search for a universal art and defined abstract forms as ‘plasmic’ – which he identified with an organic fluidity like the movement of thoughts as opposed to the ‘plastic’ of inert matter like paint or marble. As Newman elaborated, “The new painter feels that these (abstract shapes) must contain the plasmic entity that will carry his thought, the nucleus that will give life to the abstract, even abstruse ideas he is projecting. …The effect of these new pictures is that the shapes and colors act as symbols to (elicit) sympathetic participation on the part of the beholder in the artist’s vision.” (John P. O’Neill, Op. Cit., pp. 141-142)  In Onement VI, the single zip resonates within the canvas and with the viewer; it is described both by sharp tactile edges that retain a crisp memory of the delineating tape and by the gentle laps of marine blue that seep into the void of the cool light blue. Soft ghostly traces toward the bottom of the zip disperse as if into air, while deeper bleeds at eye level seek to bridge the gap of the zip from edge to edge, creating a spatial tension. The act of the pigment bleed is the locus of the temporal element in Newman’s work that finds corresponding resonance with the temporal experience of viewing Onement VI at our leisure and contemplatively.

As Harold Rosenberg wrote in his 1978 monograph on Newman, “The format of Onement I takes its meaning from being experienced as an undifferentiated whole, thus functioning as a ‘space vehicle’ for the idea of singularity. Oneness itself in Newman’s terms is an exalted ‘subject matter’.” (Harold Rosenberg, Barnett Newman, New York, 1978, pp. 59-60) As the agent of inner coherence to the painting, the zip of Onement VI is also the agent of identity and universality, brought so memorably to life in the sculptures in zip form, such as Here I (To Marcia) of 1950/1962, so named when Marcia Weisman, the purchaser of Onement VI in 1961, prevailed on Newman to cast a 1962 bronze based on a 1950 plaster and wood construction. Placed prominently in the Weisman’s collection, Newman’s painting and sculpture gave graphic testimony to the enduring power of Newman’s creations. Critics who were puzzled at Newman’s work in the early 1950s sometimes regarded his paintings as philosophic statements made without artistic attributes, or conversely, as pure painting devoid of a subject.  Paintings such as Onement VI, in truth, involve both spirit and nature, and Newman sought to instill in the viewer a profound sense of the spiritual. This did not imply that Newman was religious, but rather that he sought a profound faith in the role of the artist in attaining the highest realm to which a man could aspire. For Newman, art was capable of provoking in the viewer an existential sense of awe and wonderment for the sublime miracle of existence.