Lot 35
  • 35

Barnett Newman

9,000,000 - 12,000,000 USD
Log in to view results
bidding is closed


  • Barnett Newman
  • Galaxy
  • signed and dated 1949 on the reverse
  • oil on canvas
  • 24 1/8 by 20 1/8 in. 61.3 by 51.1 cm.


The artist
Mr. and Mrs. Tony Smith, New Jersey (gift of the above)
Christie's, New York, May 5, 1982, Lot 15 (consigned by the above)
The Estée Lauder Companies Inc. Collection, New York
The Pace Gallery, New York
Acquired by the present owner from the above in January 1995


Bennington, Vermont, New Gallery, Bennington College, Barnett Newman: First Retrospective Exhibition, May 1958 
New York, French and Company, Inc., Barnett Newman: A Selection, 1946-1952, March - April 1959
New York, Allan Stone Gallery, Newman - de Kooning, October - November 1962, p. 8, no. 8, illustrated
New York, The Museum of Modern Art; Amsterdam, Stedelijk Musem; London, The Tate Gallery; and Paris, Centre National d'Art Contemporain, Galerie Nationales d'exposition du Grand Palais, Barnett Newman, October 1971 - December 1972, p. 58, illustrated (New York), p. 48, no. 14, illustrated (Amsterdam), p. 35, no. 14, illustrated (London), and p. 47, no. 14, illustrated (Paris)
Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art, Negotiating Rapture: The Power of Art to Transform Lives, June - October 1996, p. 142, no. 59, illustrated in color
New York, Craig F. Starr Gallery, Barnett Newman Paintings, October - December 2011, n.p. (text), n.p. illustrated in color 
Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art, MCA DNA: New York School, June - September 2012 
London, Royal Academy of Arts; and Bilbao, Guggenheim Museum, Abstract Expressionism, September 2016 - June 2017, p. 174, no. 41, illustrated in color


Lawrence Alloway, "Notes on Barnett Newman," Art International 13, Summer 1969, p. 35, no. 6 
Exh. Cat., Albany, New York State Museum, New York, the State of Art: The New York School, October 1977 - January 1978, p. 35
Roelof Louw, "Newman and the Issue of Subject Matter," Studio International 187, no. 962, January 1974, p. 31
Benjamin Garrison Paskus, "The Theory, Art, and Critical Reception of Barnett Newman (Ph.D. dissertation)" University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 1974, pp. 93-95, 97, 98, 100, 114, no. 94, 155
Harold Rosenberg, Barnett Newman, New York, 1978, p. 98, no. 58, illustrated in color (in incorrect orientation)
Madeleine Deschamps, "B. Newman entre le texte et le zip," Art Press, Paris, 1980, p. 22, no. 35
Andrew Benjamin, Ed., "Newman: The Instant," The Llyotard Reader, Oxford and Cambridge, 1989, p. 101
Armine Haase, "Marats Badewanne," Kunstforum International, 1992, p. 136, no. 119
Thomas McEvilley, The Exile's Return: Toward a Redefinition of Painting for the Post-Modern Era, Cambridge, 1993, p. 26, 40, 41
Jonathan Fineberg, "Barnett Newman," Art Since 1940: Strategies of Being, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 1995, p. 102, no. 4.14, illustrated
Mollie McNickle, "The Mind and Art of Barnett Newman (Ph.D. dissertation)," University of Pennsylvania, 1996, p. 241
Yve-Alain Bois, "Here to There and Back," Artforum, March 2002, p. 108 (text)
Exh. Cat., Philadelphia, Philadelphia Museum of Art (and travelling), Barnett Newman, 2002, p. 52 (text), p. 53, illustrated (in installation at Bennington College, 1958), and p. 75 (text)
Yve-Alain Bois, "Newman's Laterality," in Melissa Ho, Ed., Reconsidering Barnett Newman: A Symposium at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, 2002, p. 37, illustrated, and pp. 36, 38, 39 (text)
Richard Shiff, Carol C. Mancusi-Ungaro and Heidi Colsman-Freyberger, Barnett Newman: A Catalogue Raisonné, New Haven and London, 2004, pp. 192-193, no. 24, illustrated in color
Yve-Alain Bois, "On Two Paintings by Barnett Newman," October 108, Spring 2004, p. 28, illustrated


This work is in very good condition overall. Please contact the Contemporary Art Department at +1 (212) 606-7254 for the report prepared by Terrence Mahon. The canvas is framed in a wood frame painted white.
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

Executed at the height of Barnett Newman’s career, Galaxy from 1949 is the very first painting in which the artist featured two of his iconic and revolutionary ‘zips,’ the stylistic element that has defined the artist’s creative output. The significance of the two zips to Newman’s practice cannot be understated; by forcing the viewer to engage his or her peripheral vision in order to see two axes, each of which individually would only necessitate a vertical reading, Newman radically transformed the traditional mode of pictorial perception. Following the execution of this groundbreaking work, Newman would create just ten other oil on canvas paintings in the critical year of 1949 that would feature two or more zips, examples of which are held in renowned institutions including The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C., and the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. The present work is further distinguished by its impressive provenance, having been gifted from Newman to Tony Smith, a fellow artist who pioneered American Minimalist sculpture. Furthermore, Galaxy was included in the recent exhibition at the Royal Academy in London, Abstract Expressionism, a long-awaited show that celebrated the bold and courageous careers of artists like Newman, Clyfford Still, Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko, and David Smith, among others. An exceptional and rare masterpiece, Galaxy is among the artist’s earliest paintings and a brilliant exemplar of the burgeoning philosophical and conceptual theories that would come to inform his celebrated output. In the years that followed the atrocities of World War II and the Holocaust, artists sought ways to break with European conventions and instead engender a new visual culture, one that could exist in the wake of such horror. Alongside his peers, Newman broke with established traditions in art history, challenging the long-established ideals of beauty and subject matter. In the catalogue for Newman’s retrospective in 2002, Ann Temkin writes: “The Greek notion of ideal beauty had opposed the aesthetic of the sublime, Newman explained, and as heir to that tradition of beauty the European artist continues down a blind alley. ‘I believe that here in America,’ he wrote, ‘some of us, free from the weight of European culture, are finding the answer, by completely denying that art has any concern with the problem of beauty and where to find it.’ Newman declared a tabula rasa for his generation: ‘We are freeing ourselves of the impediments of memory, association, nostalgia, legend, myth, or what have you, that have been the devices of Western European painting.’” (Barnett Newman in Exh. Cat., Philadelphia, Philadelphia Museum of Art (and travelling), Barnett Newman, 2002, p. 32) Newman’s decisive break with a centuries-old tradition is manifested not only in his avant-garde paintings but also in their evocative and enigmatic titles, which reflect the artist’s commitment to pure painting as a totality of transcendence comparable to spiritual or religious experience. Indeed, Newman’s arrival at the form of the zip in Onement I from 1948 can be considered a visual representation of Genesis itself – an act of dividing light from dark and an echo of God’s primal gesture in creating man, an animal who, like the zip, stands vertically.

Following this epiphanic moment, Newman continued to paint, slightly altering each instance of the vertical line either in thickness, placement on the canvas, size of the painting, or color. Galaxy from 1949 is the very first instance in which Newman introduced two zips, a format he would repeat in later works such as Concord, held in the collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York and The Promise, held in the collection of the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. Whereas a single vertical line draws the eye up and down the painting, the presence of two zips in Galaxy sends the eye horizontally across the composition, the contrasting vertical stripes punctuating the field of rich burgundy. Each zip offsets the other, the thickness of the khaki channel throwing into sharper relief the thinner, yet more built-up stripe of dark bronze on the right, which displays a more prominent brushstroke. The resulting work is austere in its deceptive simplicity and lush in its velvety surface of sensuous and moody hues. Galaxy also marks a moment in Newman’s career when he strayed from the symmetry to which he had previously adhered. Yve-Alain Bois writes that the zip “declar[ed] the surface as a totality. The zip was its measurement. It gave the viewer a yardstick to gauge its width intuitively. It was also a command to the beholder: Stand here, just in front of you, and you will know exactly where you are, for this will be the middle of your visual field, just as it is the middle of this painting. Newman always said that what he wanted most to achieve was to give the beholder a sense of place. In bilateral symmetry, which relates so directly to our body structure and to the way we, as humans, organize our perception of the world, he had found a perfect mode of address.” (Yve-Alain Bois, “Newman’s Laterality,” in Melissa Ho, Ed., Reconsidering Barnett Newman, Philadelphia, 2002, p. 33) Although the composition of the present work is no longer symmetrical, Galaxy nevertheless evokes an unexpected harmony and equilibrium in its crisply demarcated passages of solid color. In its execution and title, Galaxy is a natural extension of the painting Abraham, also from 1949 and housed in the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Although much grander in scale than the present work, Abraham features a zip placed slightly off-center, an exploration into asymmetry that would spur the creation of Galaxy. By shifting the placement of the zips in Galaxy to the periphery of the canvas, Newman tests the viewer’s perceptual capacity, challenging him to regard the subtle inequalities of the zips while simultaneously perceiving the irregular blocks of maroon on either side of the vertical stripes. The title of the present work also logically follows its forebear Abraham, as God promised Abraham that he would have a son whose progeny would be as numerous as “the stars of heaven.” (Genesis 22:17)

Galaxy’s intimate scale affords the viewer a deeply personal viewing experience. Temkin observed of the variously sized canvases in Newman’s oeuvre: “Newman, however, always talked in terms of scale, not size…Newman’s paintings prove that the dynamics on which they depend for success could operate on very little surface. What counted was the emotional resonance – the perfect adjustment of a color and the size and shape of its extent and to what neighbored it.” (Ibid., p. 42) Although Newman’s paintings vary in color palette, number of zips, and size, they share the singular goal of instilling in the viewer a profound sense of the spiritual and provoking an existential sense of awe and wonderment for human existence. Having reduced subject matter to the equivalent of zero – thereby elevating the chromatic intensity of his palette to the highest pitch – Newman articulated a new lexicon for painting, one that defied academic practice and instead privileged a new beginning in the story of modern art.