Lot 77
  • 77

Philip Guston

4,500,000 - 6,500,000 USD
4,533,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • Philip Guston
  • Late September
  • signed; signed, titled and dated 1961 on the reverse
  • oil on canvas


Sidney Janis Gallery, New York
Eastman Family Collection, New York
Christie's, New York, November 13, 2007, Lot 33 (consigned by the above)
Acquired by the present owner from the above

Catalogue Note

To his artistic peers and to subsequent generations of artists, Philip Guston was a painter’s painter, who never ceased to embody the modernist paradigm to question the formulaic boundaries of painting. While Guston was a dedicated student of the history of art, his aesthetic objective was to paint in a style without precedent and without equal. In an interview with Harold Rosenberg that appeared in the catalogue for the 1966 Jewish Museum show of Guston’s work, he famously stated, “It’s a strange thing to be immersed in the culture of painting and wish to be the first painter.” (the artist cited in Exh. Cat., New York, The Jewish Museum, Philip Guston: Recent Paintings and Drawings, 1966) His continual challenging of established tenets – and his constant re-examination of his own oeuvre - led Guston to play a crucial role in two transformative stylistic developments in American contemporary art that at first appear to be diametrically opposed: the Abstract Expressionist movement of the late 1940s and 1950s, and the renaissance of figuration known as the “New Image’’ painting of the late 1970s and early 1980s. Painted at a critical juncture in Guston’s evolution, Late September of 1961 is a summation of the tactile beauty and glowing colors of Guston’s first mature phase, while it also heralds the developments to come in a few short years when he startled the New York art world in 1970 with the debut of his return to explicitly figurative work at his Marlborough Gallery show. Residing for many years in the renowned collection of the Eastman family, Late September is a testament to Guston’s unique brand of abstraction, grounded in a painterly verve that ranged from a feathered delicacy to bold gestural articulation, all the while never entirely untethered from image-making.

In Late September and other abstract paintings of the late 1950s and early 1960s, the physicality of paint and the magic of the brushstroke vie for equal attention with Guston’s bold palette that defined his forms and compositions. Color was the over-arching structural component for Guston, and the brilliant red, orange, blue and green of the present work float amidst bold blacks and softer hues of pink, pale blue and white. Fellow painters recognized Guston’s mastery of the medium of oil pigment. As Andrew Graham-Dixon noted in the artist’s 2003 retrospective, “Guston laid claim to a special immediacy and intimacy related to ‘touch’….Guston had his pigments ground to create a particularly creamy consistency, and like thick butter applied to a hard surface, each stroke subtly squeezed out at its edges, creating a micro-sculptural effect.’’ (Exh. Cat., Ft. Worth, Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth (and travelling), Philip Guston Retrospective, 2003, p. 41) As inspiration for the spatial and compositinal elements of his work, Elaine de Kooning noted the artist’s close study of Mondrian and his “plus-minus” paintings: “It wasn’t the geometry of Mondrian that interested Guston, but the scaffolding. In Guston’s hands, however, that scaffolding would not sit as a static, ideal diagram, but would invariably shift and bend in search of a form in space.’’ (Ibid., p. 43)

In paintings of the early 1950s, Guston’s compositions formed around a predominant color, most often red, converging toward the center of the canvas and surrounded by an ether of diffuse and lighter tones, delicately applied with the finest touch. By the late 1950s, other colors emerged to engage with the predominant red – in paintings such as Beggar’s Joy of 1954-1955, blacks, greys and whites begin to scatter the color tones within the picture plane, and by the turn of the decade, blue and green have fragmented Guston’s abstract works even further. In place of the centralized spatial construct of earlier years, Guston now enlarged the discrete forms that his colors described, and the hints of the return of anthropomorphic tones and landscapes are seen in works such as Late September. Each rounded shape and fluid interspatial aperture is now a defined character upon Guston’s canvas, as expressionistic in technique as the works of the early 1950s but hinting at the figuration and narrative paintings to come later in the 1960s.

The muscular brushstrokes, internal energy, compelling beauty, complex structure and saturated color of Late September are all a testament to Guston’s refusal to accept predetermined truisms about the creative process and to the glorious achievements that resulted from his aesthetic explorations. Guston’s great task was not only to go beyond the attempts of outside observers to judge and define his work, but to subvert his own previous aesthetic assumptions as he evolved stylistically. A few years after painting Late September, Guston famously stated in a 1966 article titled Faith, Hope and Impossibility, “To paint is always to start at the beginning again, yet being unable to avoid familiar arguments about what you see yourself painting. The canvas you are working on modifies all previous ones in an unending baffling chain which never seems to finish. For me the most relevant question and perhaps the only one is ‘When are you finished?’ When do you stop? Or rather why stop at all.’’ (Art News Annual XXXI, 1966, October 1965, p. 101)  As twisting forms and cascading colors bend and braid together from edge to edge in the present work, Guston recognized the innate predilection toward imagery that was reasserting itself in his art and embraced the inherent conflict with Abstract Expressionism with as much vigor as Willem de Kooning, a kindred spirit in negotiating the territory between figuration and abstraction.