Lot 17
  • 17

Jasper Johns

600,000 - 800,000 USD
855,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • Jasper Johns
  • Study for 'Fall'
  • signed, dated 1986 and inscribed St. Martin F.W.I. 
  • watercolor on paper
  • 17  3/8  x 21  5/8  inches


Leo Castelli Gallery, New York (LC #D-248)
Private Collection, Connecticut (acquired from the above in March 1987)
Gagosian Gallery, New York
Acquired by the present owner from the above in 1989


New York, Leo Castelli Gallery, Jasper Johns: The Seasons, January - March 1987, p. 18, no. 18, illustrated
Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art; Basel, Kunstmuseum Basel; London, Hayward Gallery; and New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, The Drawings of Jasper Johns, May 1990 - April 1991, pp. 332-333, no. 114, illustrated in color
New York, Whitney Museum of American Art; San Francisco, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; and Minneapolis, Walker Art Center, Picasso and American Art, September 2006 - January 2007, p. 308, pl. 163, illustrated in color (New York venue only)


Exh. Cat., New York, The Museum of Modern Art, Jasper Johns: A Retrospective, 1996, p. 338 (text)
Roberta Bernstein, ed., Jasper Johns: Catalogue Raisonné of Painting and SculptureVolume 1, New York, 2016, p. 239, fig. 8.33, illustrated in color
Roberta Bernstein, Jasper Johns: Redo an Eye, New York, 2017, p. 239, fig. 8.33, illustrated in color

Catalogue Note

In 1987, Leo Castelli mounted Jasper Johns: The Seasons, an exhibition featuring four large scale encaustic works on canvas and their preceding studies, including Study for Fall. The entire suite of Seasons encompasses the four final works, 31 drawings and 11 print editions, distinguishing the present work among a limited group of studies for this pivotal project. Two images proved particularly significant for Johns in the execution of these works, both of which he would have seen in David Douglas Duncan’s 1961 book Picasso’s Picassos: Minotaur Moving His House and The Shadow. Johns uses the figure from The Shadow as a stand-in for Picasso’s minotaur, working through the allegory of time in four panels. Leo Castelli’s show provoked great interest, as the four Seasons were the first examples from the artist’s oeuvre featuring the human form and figurative representation that Johns had long avoided, focusing instead on ‘things the mind already knows,’ such as targets, flags and numbers. In 1984, however, the artist noted, “In my early work, I tried to hide my personality, my psychological state, my emotions. This was partly due to my feelings about myself and partly due to my feelings about painting at the time. I sort of stuck to my guns for a while but eventually it seemed like a losing battle. Finally one must simply drop the reserve. I think some of the changes in my work relate to that.” (Jasper Johns quoted in a 1984 interview, Judith Goldman, “The Seasons,” Exh. Cat., New York, Leo Castelli, Jasper Johns: The Seasons, n.p.) Arguably the most crucial study for the final manifestation of Fall, the present work is a veritable self-portrait of the artist in the profound tenor of the objects depicted. Richly painted and deeply saturated in a range of hues, the present work provides a fascinating outlook into the development of one of Johns' most significant bodies of work. 

The series of Johns’ Seasons meditates on the passing of time; Fall represents middle age and a state of decay. Johns was 55 when he executed the final painting, and it is the only one of the four paintings the artist kept in his personal collection. The series begins with Spring, in which a nascent life is depicted in the silhouette of a small boy in the foreground. Summer presents a peak in the life cycle, a figure surrounded by a flowering tree and placed against a verdant green background. Fall presents a moment of breakdown, in which the elements so stable in the preceding Summer collapse. The main figure is split in half, the ladder is snapped, and Johns’ possessions tumble to the ground. Study for Fall is a particularly rich precursor to the final work Fall, as it focuses in on the lower corner featuring fallen objects rife with personal meaning for the artist: a vase and mug by the great American ceramicist George Ohr and a Rubins vase, all amid jumbled fragments of the shattered canvas that in Summer had been securely fastened to the ladder. Johns did indeed own a vase and puzzle mug by Ohr, and both featured in the artist’s Ventriloquist, an encaustic on canvas work from 1983 that also features a lithograph by Barnett Newman. The Rubins vase was the product of the Danish psychologist Edgar Rubins, who developed this optical illusion that, when viewed one way presents a chalice, and when viewed another way, presents two faces in profile facing one another, creating tension between figure and ground, a relationship Johns negotiated throughout his artistic practice. The hatched lines of the background represent pieces of John’s painting from Summer that is now in ruins, reflecting an introspective moment in Johns’ career. Of Picasso’s painting, which served as the inspiration for these paintings, Johns said, “More than most of [Picasso’s] paintings, the catalog of things is very layered...There was something very wonderful, very interesting in an unexpected way. It’s not the pursuit of logic. I thought, how did he have that thought? I wouldn’t have that thought.” (Jasper Johns quoted in Roberta Bernstein, Jasper Johns: Catalogue Raisonné of Painting and Sculpture, Volume 1, New York, 2017, p. 236-237) The present work is perhaps the most intimate vignette related to the Seasons and a window into an artist, who, for so long, resisted any revelations of the self. In its juxtaposition of the Ohr vase, puzzle mug and the visual puzzle of the Rubins vase, Study for Fall becomes an autobiographical portrait of Johns’ influences and brings together motifs to create an intriguing catalog of clues to the source material for the artist’s output.