Lot 11
  • 11

John McLaughlin

80,000 - 120,000 USD
Log in to view results
bidding is closed


  • John McLaughlin
  • V-1957
  • signed, titled and dated 1957 on the reverse
  • oil on canvas, in artist's frame
  • 31 by 22 7/8 in. 78.7 by 58.1 cm.


Felix Landau Gallery, Los Angeles
Acquired from the above


Los Angeles County Museum of Art, John McLaughlin, November 2016 - April 2017, p. 91, illustrated in color


This work is in very good condition overall. There is stable craquelure to the white passages, common for works of this age by the artist. There are minor areas of yellowed varnish where the edges of the canvas meet the frame and at the intersection of different color passages, visible upon close inspection. The varnish was most likely applied by the artist. There are a few scattered pinpoint areas of restoration to the black passages , visible under Ultraviolet light inspection. There is wear with associated loss to some areas of the artist's frame. Framed in artist's frame.
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

          Before devoting himself to painting, John McLaughlin served in the Navy in World War I and the Marines in World War II. In the period between wars, he lived in Japan and opened a Japanese print shop in Boston. In 1946, he moved to California, where he began to pursue painting at the age of 48. Though he received little formal education in art, his early work reveals a profound knowledge of both European modern art and Eastern art traditions. Prudence Carlson explains, “Malevich provided fertile ground: the Russian’s early revolt against the miring of Cubism and Futurism in perceptual reality had turned up formal devices recreative…of the unknown, the as-yet-unrealized, the crepuscular ‘other side.’ From Malevich, McLaughlin got his planar geometry” (Prudence Carlson, “Introduction,” in Exh. Cat., New York, André Emmerich Gallery, Paintings of the Fifties, February 5 - 28, 2017, p. 9). McLaughlin borrowed the stark visual vocabulary of Constructivism and stripped it of its symbolic associations. He was also drawn to the concept of the void, prevalent in Japanese art. Susan Larsen suggests, “McLaughlin’s habits of life and art are consistent with many aspects of the Japanese tradition of literati painting practiced among monks and secular scholar-painters of the fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries. They focused upon very few visual elements: blank inks, papers on silk, high codified systems of brushwork” (Susan C. Larsen, “John McLaughlin: A Rare Sensibility,” in Exh. Cat., Laguna Beach, California, Laguna Art Museum (and traveling), John McLaughlin, July 1996 - August 1997, p. 18). McLaughlin began to incorporate the compositional structures of Japanese art and apply them to fully abstract ends.

His very first works relay a nuanced synthesis and singular interpretation of these Eastern and Western aesthetic concepts. John Coplans notes, “McLauglin’s laconic styles crystallized in 1948…and is marked by a number of clearly recognizable basic components: neutral form, indeterminate color, dematerialized paint and preference for large simple, shapes” (John Coplans, “John McLaughlin, Hard-Edge and American Painting,” Artforum Vol. 11, No. 7, January 1964, p. 28-31). Over the subsequent decades, his work would maintain these same traits, though the artist would refine his set of aesthetic aims, focusing almost exclusively on the shape of the rectangle and paring down his palate. V—1957 and #11—1960 demonstrate this transition. By the time these were painted, McLaughlin had started to work primarily in black and white tones and  largely eliminated crosses and circles and squares from his compositions, but as Carlson notes, he maintained an interest in “the vertical / horizontal cross-axis, that system of upright edges offset by lateral tones” (Prudence Carlson, “Introduction,” in Exh. Cat., New York, André Emmerich Gallery, Paintings of the Fifties, February 5—28, 2017, p. 13).

In the latest work on offer, Untitled (circa 1970-1974), one can observe the apex of McLaughlin’s vision. The rectangles are elongated and stretched into thin, vertical lines against a black ground. Sarah Checkland explains, “In the 70’s he progressively reduced the possibilities of ‘interpretation’ and engaged himself on a series of ‘black’ paintings, so that he could ‘drain the composition of self-assertive elements that might be construed as content’” (Sarah Jane Checker quoted in Exh. Cat., Zurich, Gimpel Hanover and André Emmerich Galerien, John McLaughlin: Paintings 1950—1975, June - July 1981, n.p.). In other words, as McLaughlin’s work progressed, he continued to declutter his compositions and to further emphasize the abstract power of the void.

            Because of McLaughlin’s unusual path to painting and the isolated condition in which he worked, his oeuvre is difficult to categorize or generalize. Naomi Vine notes, “In reality, there may not be an appropriate context for McLaughlin’s work anywhere in the mainstream of art history” (Naomi Vine, “Foreword and Acknowledgements,” in Exh. Cat., Laguna Beach, Laguna Art Museum (and traveling), John McLaughlin, July 1996 - August 1997, p. 8). It is McLaughlin’s evasive status in the canon of art history which makes his work so compelling; he dodges contextualization in favor of ambiguity, pushing the viewer to look closely and generate meaning.