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Details & Cataloguing

Contemporary Art Evening Auction

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London

Philip Guston
1913 - 1980
TRAVELLER II
signed; signed, titled and dated 1960 on the reverse
oil on canvas
166.1 by 186.1 cm. 65 3/8 by 73 1/4 in.
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Provenance

Sidney Janis Gallery, New York
Dwan Gallery, Los Angeles and New York
John Kluge, Charlottesville
The Onnasch Collection, Germany 
Sotheby’s, New York, 11 May 2011, Lot 132 (consigned by the above) 
Acquired from the above sale by the present owner

Exhibited

New York, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum; Los Angeles, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Philip Guston, May 1962 - June 1963, p. 34, no. 73 (text) 
Waltham, Rose Art Museum - Brandeis University, Philip Guston: A Selective Retrospective Exhibition, 1945 - 1965, February - March 1966, n.p., no. 21 (text) 
Bremen, Neues Museum, Painting for Themsleves: Late de Kooning, Guston, Miro, and Picasso, October 1996 - February 1997
Barcelona, Museu d’Arte Contemporanea, The Onnasch Collection: Aspects of Contemporary Art, November 2001 - February 2002, p. 65, illustrated in colour

Literature

Exh. Cat., New York, Hauser & Wirth, Philip Guston: Painter 1957-67, 2016, p. 26, illustrated in colour (in installation at Philip Guston, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, May 1962 - June 1963)

Catalogue Note

Surging with a deliberate, raw aggression and submerged in a restrained and sombre palette, Philip Guston’s Traveller II from 1960 is a work defined by duality and paradox, oscillating between darkness and light, abstraction and figuration, modernity and tradition. Guston, who at the time was questioning the dominance of Abstract Expressionism, reveals his frustration in the almost uncouth roughness of his paint handling. Fiery reds, glowing auburns, and verdant greens are confined by a torrent of brushy grey strokes, from which weighty black forms advance and ebb, mirage-like, at once revealing and then denying the coalescence of form within the grand scale of this atmospheric landscape. Befitting its importance in Guston’s oeuvre, the present work was featured in the artist’s mid-career retrospective at the Guggenheim in 1962, six years before his famous return to figuration. Executed at this crucially transitional moment in the artist’s career, and reflecting the modes and themes that defined his style, Traveller II represents Guston’s personal affirmation of constantly new and unexpected dramas of form, colour, reference, and atmosphere.

A leader of the New York School, Guston’s praxis followed an elliptical path from figuration to abstraction and back again, and this dual attention to objectivity and abstraction is evident in the complex composition of the present work. To create the densely layered and nuanced surface of Traveller II, Guston began with strong, brilliant hues, scraped them down and painted over them with black, and then, by working over the still-wet paint with new layers of white, would create his characteristic shadowy pillars of grey. His method creates a sense of persistent subterranean light which pervades the canvas. Out of this smoky atmosphere arises a central black form; its definition and corporeality seem to reference figuration, even as it remains resolutely abstract. The paradox that surfaces here, of addition and erasure, emergence and disappearance, is vital to Guston’s work.

Capitalising on these conflicting agendas, Guston imbues his painting with references to a multitude of sources. The visual density and emotive, atmospheric quality of this larger-than-life canvas evokes the work of such Colour Field contemporaries as Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman, while the aggressive, masculine handling recalls that of Jackson Pollock, with whom Guston had been friends since high school and once briefly shared an apartment. Guston also deeply admired Renaissance masters such as Piero della Francesca, and kept a postcard of the Flagellation of Christ (1455-60, Galleria Nazionale delle Marche, Urbino) beside him in his studio. Its influence is keenly felt in the present work, from the palette of red, blue, green and black, to the enigmatic composition. A testament to Guston’s painterly mastery, these ostensibly contradictory sources are elegantly reconciled in the dynamic composition of Traveller II.

As esteemed art historian and critic H. Harvard Arnason wrote in his introduction to the catalogue for Guston’s Guggenheim retrospective, “Traveler II, painted in March-April, 1960, in its black and gray murkiness through which shine accents of brilliant green and red, its roughly brushed over-all texture, sets the mood for most of the recent paintings… Whatever may be the immediate or the ultimate raison d'etre for the recent work, there is no question that it represents the most completely logical summation of all the experiments with living forms and their interactions, which have obsessed him at least since 1953” (H. Harvard Arnason cited in: Exh. Cat., New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Philip Guston, 1962, pp. 33-34). This period of abstraction, of which Traveller II is an archetypal example, thus represents a seminal phase of Guston’s oeuvre, as he interrogates and reimagines the painterly modes of his peers and his past.

Contemporary Art Evening Auction

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London