Lot 28
  • 28

Barnett Newman

18,000,000 - 25,000,000 USD
20,605,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • Barnett Newman
  • By Twos
  • signed with initials; signed, titled and dated 1949 on the reverse
  • oil on canvas


Lawrence Rubin, Paris (acquired from the artist in December 1959)
Mr. and Mrs. E. J. Power, London
Seiji Tsutsumi, Tokyo
Acquired by the present owner from the above in 1997


New York, Betty Parsons Gallery, Barnett Newman, April - May 1951 (listed in checklist as 10-1951)
New York, French and Company, Inc., Barnett Newman: A Selection, 1946–1952, March - April 1959, cat. no. 22
Paris, Galerie Neufville, Group Show, February– March 1960
Milan, Galleria dell’Ariete, Undici Americani, April–May 1960, cat. no. 10, illustrated
London, Tate Gallery, Barnett Newman, June–August 1972, cat. no. 11, p. 37, illustrated (as By Two’s)
Basel, Galerie Beyeler, Wege zur Abstraktion, July–September 1989, cat. no. 65, illustrated in color (as By Two’s)
Riehen/Basel, Fondation Beyeler, Die Andere Sammlung/The Other Collection: Homage to Ernst and Hildy Beyeler, September 2007 - January 2008, p. 262, illustrated in color
New York, Gagosian Gallery, Malevich and the American Legacy, March - April 2011, pp. 117 and 239, illustrated in color
New York, Craig F. Starr Gallery, Barnett Newman Paintings, October - December 2011, illustrated in color


Lawrence Alloway, “Notes on Barnett Newman,” Art International 13, no. 6, Summer 1969, p. 35 (text)
Exh. Cat., New York, Museum of Modern Art, Barnett Newman, 1971, p. 60, illustrated (as By Two's) and pp. 59 and 109 (text)
Exh. Cat., Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, Barnett Newman, 1972, cat. no. 11, p. 48, illustrated (as By Two’s)
Exh. Cat., Paris, Grand Palais, Galeries Nationales, Barnett Newman, 1972, cat. no. 11, p. 48, illustrated (as By Two’s)
Roelof Louw, “Newman and the Issue of Subject Matter,” Studio International 187, no. 962, January 1974, p. 31 (text)
Benjamin Garrison Paskus, “The Theory, Art, and Critical Reception of Barnett Newman,” Ph.D. dissertation, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 1974, pp. 93, 95-96, 97, 105, 116, 129, 131 and 148 (text, as By Two’s)
Harold Rosenberg, Barnett Newman, New York, 1978 (and 2nd ed., 1994), pl. 53, p. 67 (1978 edition) and pl. 53, p. 95 (1994 edition), illustrated in color (as By Two’s) and  p. 67 (text, 1994 edition)
Yve-Alain Bois, “Perceiving Newman,” in Painting as Model, Cambridge, Massachusetts and London, 1990, pp. 199 and 204 (as By Two)
Stephen Polcari, ”Barnett Newman: New Beginnings,” Abstract Expressionism and the Modern Experience,Cambridge and New York, 1991, p. 205 (text)
Ziva Amishai-Maisels, Depiction and Interpretation: The Influence of the Holocaust on the Visual Arts,Oxford and New York, 1993, p. 303 (text)
Thomas McEvilley, The Exile’s Return: Toward a Redefinition of Painting for the Post-Modern Era, Cambridge, 1993, p. 41 (text, as By Two's)
Molly McNickle, “The Mind and Art of Barnett Newman,” Ph.D. dissertation, University of Pennsylvania, 1996, p. 240 (text, as By Two’s)
Exh. Cat., Berlin, Martin-Gropius-Bau, Die Epoche der Modernen Kunst im 20. Jahrhundert/The Age of Modernism: Art in the 20th Century, 1997, pl. 157, illustrated in color (as By Two’s)
Exh. Cat., Philadelphia, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Barnett Newman, 2002, pp. 74 and 174 (text), and fig. 27, p. 48, p. 317 and back cover, illustrated (in the artist’s studio, 1951)
Richard Shiff, Carol C. Mancusi-Ungaro and Heidi Colsman-Freyberger, Barnett Newman: A Catalogue Raisonné, New Haven and London, 2004, cat. no. 21, p. 187, illustrated in color and fig. 45, p. 47, illustrated (in the artist’s studio, 1951)

Catalogue Note

By Twos of 1949 is a moving and quintessential example of Barnett Newman’s inimitable contribution to the canon of American art during the critical years after the Second World War. In 1948, Newman painted Onement I, the canvas in which he felt he achieved the radical aesthetic breakthrough that he and his contemporaries each fervently believed was the higher purpose of the artist in the modern era.  Here, Newman’s signature motif – the vertical 'zip' – emerged and with a celebratory burst of energy, the next two years were the most productive of his career. In 1949, he painted eighteen canvases, the largest number he would ever produce in one year and a clear indication of the momentous creative epiphany experienced by Newman at this critical time. Yet, fully eleven of these works now reside in museum collections, including a rich trove of four to be found in New York City: the Museum of Modern Art in New York purchased Abraham in 1959 where it was later joined by Onement III, while the Metropolitan Museum of Art received Concord in 1968 and The Promise was gifted to the Whitney Museum of American Art in 2000. Washington, D. C. also has deep holdings with Yellow Painting and Dionysus at the National Gallery of Art and Covenant at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. The sumptuous Be I is to be found at the Menil Collection in Houston, while the itinerary of the remaining 1949 paintings in museums include the Allen Memorial Art Museum at Oberlin College in Ohio, the Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery at the University of Nebraska and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. By Twos was included in the artist’s second one-man show at Betty Parsons Gallery in 1951, as well as the 1959 show at French and Company in New York, which was curated by Clement Greenberg and served to reinvigorate Newman’s career among a new generation of artists in the 1960s and 1970s such as Donald Judd, Carl Andre and Frank Stella. By Twos was purchased from the artist by Lawrence Rubin following the 1959 show and subsequently remained for many years in the renowned collection of E. J. Power in London, who loaned it to the 1972 Tate Gallery retrospective that served as a memorial tribute to Newman. By Twos has remained in the current private collection since 1997 and presents an exceptionally rare opportunity to acquire one of the few 1949 paintings still in private hands.

As Newman recounted in an interview about Onement I, “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.” (Interview with David Sylvester 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 articulated his commitment to pure painting as a totality of transcendence, devoid of subject matter. Newman’s iconic and revolutionary 'zip' served as a vertical signifier of the human presence and a visual portal to the ineffable sources of inspiration that profoundly inform the artist’s oeuvre. The titles of Newman’s early paintings – Genesis-The Break and The Beginning from 1946, and Covenant and The Promise of 1949  –  exhibit a close affinity for the Old Testament, while By Twos is also a reference to the animal pairs who survived the Flood in Noah’s Ark, perhaps an elegiac reference to the recent tragic history of the European Jews. While Newman’s Jewish heritage gives a rich context for these titles, his intent was not spiritual in the religious sense. He equated the act of genesis to an artist’s creation of a sublime work of art, and in turn, sought to instill in the viewer an existential sense of awe and wonderment for the miracle of existence.  By Twos, in its sumptuous elucidation of Newman’s skill in composition, technique and color, as well as its symbiotic relationship to the sister paintings of 1949, memorializes Newman’s achievement of these aspirations.  The demarcation of the 'zip', in its placement, vertical format and complementary hue of light blue, serves both a temporal and spatial purpose in the personalized experience of this masterpiece of Newman’s aesthetic.

As noted by Harold Rosenberg, the 'zip' aptly “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 an agent of such inner coherence and unity, the 'zip' of By Twos is also the avatar of identity and universality, brought memorably to life in the sculptures of the 'zip' form, such as Here I (To Marcia) of 1950/1962, so named when the collector Marcia Weisman prevailed upon Newman to cast a 1962 bronze based on his 1950 plaster and wood construction. In terms of sculptural affinities, one thinks of Alberto Giacometti’s elongated and abstracted figures which were first shown in New York in February 1948. Newman acknowledged a sympathetic response to the “new things, with no form, no texture, but somehow filled” with a succinct “I took my hat off to him.” (cited in Exh. Cat., London, Tate Gallery, Barnett Newman, 1972, p. 36) Yet even more than Giacometti, Newman abandoned any substantive reference to representational figuration and sought instead to convey a noncorporeal state of being and communion that is more resonant with the elegant geometry and formal power of Constantin Brancusi’s paean to infinity, Endless Column of 1938.

The placement and interrelationships of the 'zip' in Newman’s 1949 paintings exhibit the subtlety with which the artist refined his parameters, particularly in terms of the modernist elements of color and spatial rhythms. Although critics would initially deride Newman’s work as too simplistic, he in fact employed almost a “secret symmetry,” a phrase adopted by Thomas B. Hess in the catalogue for the artist’s 1971 retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art. In 1949, Newman continued the use of a single vertical 'zip' as the central divider of his monochromatic grounds originated in the Onement paintings, but he also experimented with two or more 'zips', both vertically and horizontally, in differing situated proportions and optical import. In paintings such as Concord, By Twos and Abraham, the paired lines can be seen either as edges that define a central 'zip' formed of the same color as the ground, or they can be seen as separate dual 'zips', vibrating toward and away from each other as they float above an expanse of uninterrupted ground color.  In By Twos, Newman complicates this reading further by altering the sheen and texture of the black pigment both between and outside the blue lines, thus increasing the sense of a black 'zip' subtly separated by blue from the outer sections of black ground. As the viewer negotiates a canvas that can be visually read in two contradictory ways, this duality of composition may also be an interesting play on the title By Twos. Abraham and By Twos are even more complex spatially, since the central band or 'zip' no longer bisects the canvas evenly, but is now at center and off center simultaneously. As seen in By Twos, the far left edge or 'zip' is the vertical that splits the canvas in two, so our eye clearly registers a thin blue dividing line that leaves the left half an uninterrupted expanse of velvety black. However, if the dual blue lines are read as edges delineating a single black 'zip', its proportion and optical weight now pulls the balance of the painting toward the right and away from the concept of two evenly divided halves. As Hess noted in discussing By Twos and the black-on-black Abraham: “By widening the zip until it almost becomes a section of the ground, both its edges become independently important – thus further disguising the secret symmetrical action.” (Exh. Cat., New York, Museum of Modern Art, Barnett Newman, 1971, p. 59)

By Twos revels in the poetry of Newman’s primal 'zip' which lies at the core of his ambition to create paintings free of objects, dogma, precedence or referential subject matter. Along with other heroic artists of the mid-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.  In Newman’s devotion to a restrained color palette and reductive use of demarcation with his sparsely employed 'zips', his paintings were deemed provocative and shocking when they appeared at mid-century, but the aura of quietude and penetrating sophistication of By Twos is eloquent testimony to the far-reaching import of Newman’s corpus. In company with Brancusi’s Endless Column and  Malevich’s Suprematist manifesto of 1915, Newman’s eloquent and elemental `zip' and his deft tonal chromatics were a legacy of vast import to the birth of Minimalism concurrent with the reappearance of By Twos in Newman’s 1959 exhibition.