Lot 59
  • 59

Robert Ryman

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


  • Robert Ryman
  • Meridian
  • signed, titled and dated 71 on the overlap
  • Enamelac on stretched sized canvas
  • 60 by 60 in. 152.4 by 152.4 cm.


S.I. Newhouse, Jr., New York
Saatchi Collection, London
Gagosian Gallery, New York
Thomas Ammann Fine Art, Zurich
Private Collection, Turkey
Sotheby's, New York, May 10, 2006, Lot 47 (consigned by the above)
Private Collection (acquired from the above)
Acquired by the present owner from the above


New York, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Robert Ryman, March – April 1972, no. 23, n.p. (text)
London, Saatchi Collection, Andre, Chamberlain, Flavin, LeWitt, Ryman, Stella, October 1985 – July 1986
Cologne, Museum Ludwig, Bilderstreit: Widerspruch, Einheit und Fragment in der Kunst seit 1960, April – June 1989, p. 530, no. 657 (text)


Exh. Cat., Munich, Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus, Bilder Objekte Filme Konzepte: Sammlung Jost Herbig, 1973, p. 156 (text)
Exh. Cat., Zurich, InK. Halle für internationale neue Kunst (and travelling), Robert Ryman, 1980, p. 149, illustrated (in installation at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 1972) 
Naomi Spector, Some Ryman Words, New York, 1981, n.p. (text)
Peter Schjeldahl, Art of Our Time: The Saatchi Collection, Volume 1, London, 1984, p. 138, no. 106, illustrated in color
“Neuer Blick auf die Moderne,” Art, Hamburg, August 1989, p. 33, illustrated in color 
Architect for Art: Max Gordon, Seattle, 2010, p. 50, illustrated in color (in installation at the Saatchi Collection)

Catalogue Note

“There is a concept that Ryman talks about a good deal. As do other artists of his generation which I do not think is discussed nearly enough nowadays, and that is the idea of making something visible.

Robert Storr, “In the American Grain,” in Exh. Cat., New York, Dia Art Foundation, Robert Ryman, 2015, p. 20

Emitting a luminous aura of exquisite purity and absolute serenity, Meridian from 1971 is an enduring and profound testament to the utterly radical brilliance of Robert Ryman’s painterly oeuvre. Executed at the creative pinnacle of the artist’s practice in the early 1970s, the present work is distinguished by its uniquely poetic title, which deftly alludes to the subtle horizontal bands that line the canvas like precisely ascending latitudes upon the globe. In a manner paradigmatic of the best examples from his output, Ryman accentuates the thoughtful exactitude of his method by ending each methodical brushstroke just before the edge of the picture support, framing the incandescent expanse of white pigment within a pristine border of raw canvas; initially transmitting a sublime stillness, the closer the viewer draws to the canvas, the more apparent the meditative motions of the artist’s hand across the canvas become, as Meridian articulates the very means by which it was created. Meridian is further distinguished by an exceptional provenance and exhibition history: originally included in the esteemed collection of Samuel I. Newhouse Jr. in New York, the painting was subsequently held by the Saatchi Collection in London, a celebrated assembly of Ryman's paintings known to include several of the artist’s most iconic works. Most notably, in the year following its execution, the present work was included in the seminal exhibition Robert Ryman at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the artist’s first exhibition in New York City. Evincing a provocative simplicity that borders upon the sublime, Meridian is an iconic and truly captivating exemplar of Ryman’s revered corpus of mesmerizing canvases.

In its radical candor and breathtaking technical precision, Meridian is a singularly elegant articulation of Ryman’s career-long investigation of the possibilities, limitations, and essential truths of abstract painting. Scholar Robert Storr eloquently describes: “To ‘critique’ means to shed light on things, and Ryman's work sheds light on everything around it. It sheds light on itself. It sheds light on the false premises that are thrown at it or held against it…It is not just about taking something apart, but about saying something is there that is worth special attention, special respect. Something that is fundamentally matter-of-fact, materialist, and democratic in its appeal and accessibility.” (Robert Storr, “In the American Grain,” in Exh. Cat., New York, Dia Art Foundation, Robert Ryman, 2015, p. 25) Throughout an oeuvre characterized by steadfast dedication to consistent painterly principles, Ryman pursued two above all with unerring focus and unwavering determination: his use of white and the deliberately non-compositional device of the square. Stripped of figurative context, white’s emphatic physical purity registers that which is done to or around it, drawing the viewer’s attention to the slightest variations in surface. Likewise, the universally symmetrical nature of the square allows for maximum neutrality, forestalling any compositional intervention or pictorial order provided by the artist; as summarized by Ryman himself, “If you have an equal-sided space and you’re going to put paint on it…then [the square] seems like the most perfect space. I don’t have to get involved with spatial composition, as with rectangles or circles.” (The artist interviewed by Phyllis Tuchman in Artforum, May 1971, pp. 44-65) By situating the entirety of his practice within these unshakeable parameters, Ryman decisively heightens the viewer’s sensitivity to the slightest permutations in stroke, tone, and format. Confronted by the puritanical elegance of Meridian, the viewer’s eye is powerfully drawn to the subtle horizontal bands which serenely ascend the canvas; so ethereal as to almost be imagined, Ryman echoes the precise motion of his brush in the painting’s poetic title, imbuing the simplicity of his composition with unspeakable lyricism.

In each pristine band of radiant pigment, Meridian articulates the means and method of its own creation. By ending each unerring stroke just before the border of the painting, Ryman emphatically reaffirms the foundational and unifying structure of the square while, simultaneously, emphasizing the distinction between medium and support. Within Ryman’s exacting aesthetic vernacular, the crucial variables of the painting - the diaphanous edge of a single stroke, the thin border of taut canvas - assume a sacrosanct significance. “I wanted to paint the paint,” Ryman once remarked; in another statement, “There was never a question of what to paint, but how to paint. The how of painting has always been the image.” (The artist cited in Exh. Cat., Zürich, Halle für internationale neue Kunst (and travelling), Robert Ryman, 1980, p. 15) Stripped of any metaphysical context beyond the essential elements by which it was created, Meridian exists as a meditation upon the very acts of painting and seeing themselves; ensconced within the ethereal hyper-reality of the canvas, the viewer experiences with dazzling clarity the purified, undiluted essence of abstract painting. The enduring significance of Ryman’s radical candor is eloquently summarized by Storr: The idea that what an artist does is mark the world so that you can see it again (in addition to making a mark that is intrinsically interesting to look at) is, I think, the defining principle of Ryman’s work, as it is for a great many artists of his generation.” (Robert Storr, “In the American Grain,” in Exh. Cat., New York, Dia Art Foundation, Robert Ryman, 2015, p. 20) Evoking the map it draws its title from, Meridian marks the world so that we, the viewer, can see it again, brighter and more exquisitely authentic than ever before.