Lot 38
  • 38

Jackson Pollock

5,000,000 - 7,000,000 USD
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  • Jackson Pollock
  • Black and White Painting III
  • Enamel on canvas
  • 56 1/4 by 49 in.
  • 142.9 by 124.5 cm
  • Painted circa 1951. Please note that in the print catalogue for this sale, this lot appears as number 38T.


Betty Parsons Gallery, New York, 1951

Steve Burke, Cleveland, Ohio (acquired from the above circa 1951)

Thompson Collection, New York

Paul Kantor, Beverly Hills, California

William Janss, Sun Valley, Idaho

James Corcoran Gallery, Los Angeles (acquired from the above)

Acquired from the above by A. Alfred Taubman in February 1979


New York, American Federation of Arts, Dealer's Choice, November 1962, shown by the Betty Parsons Gallery

Munich, Haus der Kunst, American Painting 1930-1980, November 14, 1981 - January 31, 1982, no. 187, illustrated in the catalogue

New York, Gagosian Gallery, Jackson Pollock: Black Enamel Paintings, April 4 - June 2, 1990, no. 2, illustrated in the catalogue and illustrated in color on the cover

Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, McMullen Museum of Art, Boston College, Pollock/Matters, September 1 - December 9, 2007


Paul Facchetti, Numero: arte e litterature 4, no. 3, December 1952, p. 17, illustrated (incorrect orientation)

Bryan Robertson, Jackson Pollock, New York, 1960, pl. 29, illustrated p. 55 (as Black and White Painting) (incorrect size)

Italo Tomassoni, Pollock, Florence, 1968 (1978 printing), pl. 62, illustrated (as Black and White Painting)

C.L. Wysuph, "Behind the Veil," Art News 69, no. 6, October 1970, discussed and illustrated p. 55 (as Black and White Painting)

Francis Valentine O'Connor and Eugene Victor Thaw, eds., Jackson Pollock: A Catalogue Raisonné of Paintings, Drawings and Other Works: Volume II, Paintings 1948-1955, London and New Haven, 1978, no. 332, illustrated p. 150 (incorrect size)

Roberta Smith, "By Jackson Pollock, With and Without Drips," The New York Times, April 13, 1990

Jo Applin, Gavin Delahunty, et al., Blind Spots: Jackson Pollock (exhibition catalogue), Tate Liverpool, London & Dallas Museum of Art, 2015, p. 55, illustrated in color


Please contact the Contemporary Art Department at (212) 606-7254 for the condition report for this lot.
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


Ellen G. Landau

In January 1951, not long after the closing of Jackson Pollock’s most recent solo exhibition where his now classic allover poured works of the prior year had been on initial view, the artist wrote a dejected letter to Alfonso Ossorio, one of his closest friends.  Ossorio, an independently wealthy artist, was the purchaser of Number 1, 1950 (Lavender Mist), the only canvas sold from that show by his dealer Betty Parsons.  “I really hit an all time low—with depression and drinking—NYC is brutal,” Pollock described in obvious desperation.  (Francis V. O’Connor and Eugene Victor Thaw, eds., Jackson Pollock: A Catalogue Raisonné of Paintings, Drawings, and Other Works [New Haven: Yale University Press, 1978] v. 4, 257: document 94).  That winter, he and his wife, the painter Lee Krasner, were staying at Ossorio’s town house on MacDougal Alley while the latter was in Paris, and the experience of being back in the city had clearly not been positive.  Soon after returning home to Long Island, Pollock sent Ossorio and his partner Ted Dragon an update.  Writing on June 7th, he appeared a bit more confident and perhaps atypically outspoken about the changes occurring in his work.  “I’ve had a period of drawing on canvas in black—with some of my early images coming thru,” Jackson explained, adding with unusual insight, “think the non-objectivists will find them disturbing—and the kids who think it simple to splash a Pollock out.” (JPCR, v. 4, 261: document 99)

Scholars and critics writing about Jackson Pollock’s thirty-three known canvases of 1951, a stylistically coherent group later designated by Francis V. O’Connor the “Black Pourings,” are in general agreement that the artist’s latter statements to Ossorio and Dragon provide a number of critical reference points for analysis of these works.  Most of his 1951 paintings were given number titles by Pollock, although not in order of their creation.  Those few not numbered as such were simply denoted in Pollock’s 1978 catalogue raisonné as Black and White Painting with appended Roman numerals I-III.  Black and White Painting III (although oriented incorrectly) was first reproduced in December 1952 in an Italian magazine by Paul Fachetti, the gallerist who, less than a year earlier, had introduced Pollock’s work in France.  This circumstance was facilitated by Ossorio’s connection with the Parisian critic Michel Tapié.  Better sales resulted from Pollock’s show at Studio Paul Fachetti that March; Black and White Painting III, already acquired from Parsons by a Cleveland collector, was not on view.

In the majority of paintings in the “Black Pouring” series Pollock limited his means to thinned black industrial enamel stained, pooled and/or softly blotted into unprimed canvas, sized either first or at completion with Rivet glue.  In the final result, glossy and matte effects combine.  While, as the title of this example demonstrates, these works have often been characterized as “black and white,” their raw canvas supports actually exhibit a light tan hue and no white pigment was used.  Occasionally Pollock laid down the primary forms in sepia—as poet-curator Frank O’Hara remarked, the “color of dried blood”—instead of using black.  Although that modification is not the case here, the facture of Black and White Painting III is identical to works in the series exhibiting either scheme.  (Frank O’Hara, Jackson Pollock [New York: George Braziller, 1959], 30) 

All of the “Black Pourings” were created flat on the floor of Pollock’s barn studio, not with a traditional wet brush but, as in works such as Lavender Mist and Autumn Rhythm: Number 30, 1950 made the previous year, by dripping paint from sticks or from brushes stiff with dried pigment. He also squirted or poured paint with a basting syringe, using it, Lee Krasner explained, “like a giant fountain pen.” With these large syringes, Krasner described, “he had to control the flow of ink as well as his gesture.” (B.H. Friedman, “An Interview with Lee Krasner Pollock,” Jackson Pollock: Black and White [New York: Marlborough-Gerson Gallery, 1969], 7-10)   

The larger canvases of 1950, as documented in more than 500 images of the artist at work by photographer Hans Namuth, had been placed on the barn floor unstretched, but already cut to size before Pollock began to paint.  To the contrary, in order to create the subsequent black enamel works, he rolled out roughly twenty feet sections of a bolt of canvas duck, heavy enough so that no weighting would be required. Krasner continued to describe: "With the larger black-and-whites he’d either finish one and cut it off the roll or canvas, or cut it off in advance and then work on it.  But with the smaller ones he’d often do several on  a large strip of canvas and then cut that strip from the roll to make more working space and to study it.  Sometimes he’d ask, 'Should I cut it here? Should this be the bottom?' He’d have long sessions of cutting and editing, some of which I was in on, but the final decisions were always his. Working around the canvas—in 'the arena' as he called it—there really was no absolute top or bottom.  And leaving space between paintings there was no absolute 'frame' the way there is working on a pre-stretched canvas. . . ." 

How the initial uncut state looked with multiple images in rows is visible in photographs of  original scrolls hanging on Pollock’s studio wall also shot by Namuth.  All of the works edited into smaller individual compositions measure roughly 56 inches in height.  Black and White Painting III was therefore not originally conceived as a separate narrative, despite its unambiguously representational elements.

In her extremely informative 1969 interview with B.H. Friedman about what she termed the “Black and Whites,” Lee Krasner recalled her husband’s output of the late 1930s and early 1940s, stating unequivocally, “For me, all of Jackson’s work grows from this period; I see no more sharp breaks, but rather a continuing development of the same themes and obsessions.”  More so than in many other examples dating to 1951, in Black and White Painting III, Pollock directly referenced the disturbing nature of some of his own “early images,” in which eroticism and aggression were often combined.  The composition of Black and White Painting III seems especially to echo Pollock’s tendency, before his breakthrough to maturity, to amalgamate ideas from the Mexican muralist José Clemente Orozco with Picasso’s expressive deformations, as a way to investigate his own troubled psyche.        

Throughout his life (and long after he became known as an abstractionist) Jackson Pollock would continue to proclaim that Prometheus, Orozco’s 1930 mural at Pomona College in Claremont California, was “the greatest painting” in North America. A modified version of the epic pose of Prometheus is perhaps echoed in the main protagonist’s assertive stance in Black and White Painting III.  This figure has been identified as a monkey because of its simian-looking face, but the rest of its body seems to belie such pat categorization. Indeed, with its heroic outstretched arms and halo-like appurtenance it could be read as Christ-like, and Pollock occasionally included elements associated with the Crucifixion in some earlier drawings.  Alternatively, the unusual head configuration might hark back to the type of circular Native American mask seen on Naked Man painted by Pollock c. 1938.  Yet another prospect might suggest additional allusion to Orozco’s mural study, The Two Natures of Man, modified by Pollock into a rather more violent allegory in the Tate Gallery’s c. 1938-40 canvas Naked Man with Knife. Another comment by O’Hara on Pollock’s 1951 output—“These are disturbing, tragic works.  They cry out.  What this must have meant to him after the Apollonian order of Autumn Rhythm is unimaginable”—seems especially pertinent to any analysis of Black and White Painting III. (O’Hara, 30)  It may not be irrelevant that Ossorio had recently given Pollock a book on Goya’s engravings and lithographs, including the Disasters of War, published in Madrid in 1928.

O’Hara made the above remark in a monograph on the artist he published only a few years after Pollock’s untimely death at age 44 in August 1956.  Of course, we now know he had been drawing in black additional personage forms in the first layer of a number of the classic allover pictures, Autumn Rhythm included.  This surmise by some was given evidentiary proof in several frames of Namuth’s 1950 black and white film depicting Pollock at work, and scientific backing by the efforts of conservators at The Museum of Modern Art in preparation for the artist’s 1998 retrospective.  Mere weeks before his fatal auto crash, Pollock told his last interviewer Selden Rodman, “When you’re working out of your unconscious, figures are bound to emerge.” (Selden Rodman, Conversations with Artists [New York: Devin-Adair, 1957], 82) Indeed, to the surprise of many, Pollock stoutly maintained to Rodman his continual adherence to representationality.  As noted by one reviewer when the (not yet named) “Black Pourings” were first shown, in these “nightmarish” images that “carry horrific suggestive power” Pollock “deliberately brought to the surface elements previously driven underground.” (Howard Devree, New York Times, December 2, 1951) 

Ossorio’s introduction to Pollock’s exhibition of his 1951 works at Betty Parsons proclaims them “another assertion of the unity of concept that underlies the work of Jackson Pollock,” confirming that “the singleness and depth of Pollock’s vision makes unimportant such current antitheses as ‘figurative’ and ‘non-representational.’”  (Alfonso Ossorio, introduction, Jackson Pollock 1951 [New York: Betty Parsons Gallery, November 26-December 15, 1951], n.p.)  In these enamels on canvas, as drawing specialist Bernice Rose would later explain, Pollock continued to re-examine and re-invent the whole concept of how line works, and of how forms are “described” in art.  (Bernice Rose, Jackson Pollock: Drawing into Painting [Museum of Modern Art, Oxford, 1979], 27)  By maintaining the closeness to original impulse of the sketch in his direct approach to execution of such compositions as Black and White Painting III, Jackson Pollock radically advanced the terms by which painting could and should be understood.