Lot 36
  • 36


6,000,000 - 8,000,000 USD
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  • Lee Krasner
  • Sun Woman I
  • signed
  • oil on canvas
  • 97 1/4 by 70 1/4 in. 247 by 178.4 cm.
  • Executed in 1957.


Estate of the artist
Robert Miller Gallery, New York
Donald B. Marron, New York (acquired in 1982)
Placido Arango, Spain (acquired from the above in March 1986)
Sotheby's New York, November 10, 2011, Lot 125 (consigned by the above)
Private Collection, New York (acquired from the above)
Kasmin Gallery, New York
Acquired by the present owner from the above


New York, Martha Jackson Gallery, Lee Krasner, Recent Paintings, February - March 1958
Houston, Janie C. Lee Gallery, Lee Krasner: Works on Paper 1938-1977, September - October 1978, n.p., illustrated
Houston, Janie C. Lee Gallery, Lee Krasner: Works on Paper 1956 - 1971, February - March 1981, no. 4
New York, Robert Miller Gallery, Lee Krasner: Paintings from the Late Fifties, October - November 1982, illustrated in color on the front cover
Houston, The Museum of Fine Arts; San Francisco, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; and New York, The Museum of Modern Art, Lee Krasner: A Retrospective, November 1983 - February 1985, p. 103, no. 100, illustrated, and p. 108 (text)
East Hampton, Guild Hall Museum, Lee Krasner: The Nature of the Body, Works from 1993 to 1984, August - October 1995, n.p., illustrated in color, and n.p. (text)
Los Angeles, Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Des Moines, Des Moines Art Center; Akron, Akron Art Museum; and New York, Brooklyn Museum of Art, Lee Krasner, October 1999 - January 2001, p. 132, illustrated in color, p. 130 (text), p. 138 (text), and p. 151 (text) 


Grace Glueck, "Lee Krasner: The Late 50's," The New York Times, October 29, 1982, p. C19 (text)
Marlene Sanders, "Krasner Radiant," Working Woman, November 1982, p. 224
Barbara Gallati, "Lee Krasner," Arts Magazine 57, February 1983, p. 33 (text)
Susie Kalil, "Lee Krasner," Artweek, December 10, 1983, p. 20 (text)
Michael Kohn, "Lee Krasner: Paintings from the Fifties," Flash Art, January 1983, p. 62, illustrated
Richard Pearson, "Lee Krasner, Abstract Expressionist Dies," Washington Post, June 21, 1984, p. C5
Michael Cannell, "An Interview with Lee Krasner," Arts Magazine 59, September 1984, p. 89, illustrated
Ray Matthew, "A Record on Canvas," Art/World, January 15 - February 15, 1985, p. 1, illustrated, and p. 2 (text)
Exh. Cat., New York, Robert Miller Gallery, Lee Krasner Paintings 1965 to 1970, January 1991, n.p. (text)
Robert Hobbs, Lee Krasner, New York, 1993, p. 8, no. 2, illustrated in color, and p. 67 (text)
Ellen G. Landau, Lee Krasner: A Catalogue Raisonné, New York, 1995, p. 164, no. CR 312, illustrated in color, p. 165 (text), pp. 168-169 (text)
Fred Orton and Griselda Pollock, Avant-Gardes and Partisans Reviewed, Manchester, 1996, p. 220, no. 39, illustrated, p. 222 (text), p. 269 (text), p. 282 (text), and p. 285, no. 64, illustrated
Griselda Pollock, "To Inscribe in the Feminine: A Kristevan Impossibility? or Femininity, Melancholy and Sublimation," Parallax 8, July-September 1998, p. 99 (text)
Mieke Bal, ed., The Practice of Cultural Analysis: Exposing Interdisciplinary Interpretation, Stanford 1999, p. 77 (text), p. 93 (text), p. 98 (text), and p. 100 (text)
Robert Hobbs, "Lee Krasner's Skepticism and Her Emergent Postmodernism," Woman's Art Journal 28, Fall/Winter 2007, p. 5 (text)
Exh. Cat., Denver, Denver Art Museum (and travelling), Women of Abstract Expressionism, 2016, p. 61, no. 47 (illustrated in color)
Sarah E. Fensom, "Mothers of Abstraction," Art & Antiques, June 2016, p. 83 (text)
Exh. Cat., London, Barbican Art Gallery, Lee Krasner: Living Colour, 2019, p. 209, no. 21, illustrated in color

Catalogue Note

The Earth Green series, of which Sun Woman I is a superlative example, is not only the most pivotal series of Krasner’s career, but likely the most accomplished. Hugely popular during her own lifetime, this group of seventeen works, exhibited together at Martha Jackson Gallery in 1958, were those that prompted Clement Greenberg to offer her a solo show the following year, and one of their number, The Seasons (Whitney Museum of American Art, New York), was later described by legendary critic John Russell as “one of the most remarkable paintings of its date.” (John Russell, “Gallery View: Delights, Surprises-And Gaps,” The New York Times, March 8, 1981) Executed in the year following her husband Jackson Pollock’s death in a car crash, these works are widely considered by scholars as the pivotal moment of her career. Indeed, there can be little doubt that the Umber Paintings that followed (to considerably less fanfare) were enabled because Krasner had “gained the strength to tackle Pollock once again and to wage war on his drip paintings.” (Robert Hobbs, Lee Krasner, New York 1992, p. 70) Painted at a critical intersection of the artist’s life, where Pollock’s death marked at once a personal tragedy and the opportunity to assert her own artistic independence, the Earth Green series represents a rebirth, both literally and metaphorically. These were the first paintings executed in the barn beside the house in East Hampton that Pollock used to call his studio, a location that abruptly gave Krasner the opportunity to work on a grand scale. As Hobbs describes it, with this series: “Krasner experienced the difficulty and exhilaration of creation, the fears of being subsumed in mythic content, and the satisfaction of finally developing and accepting an enlarged sense of self as a result of her deep commitment to fulfilling her own nature.” (Ibid., p. 66) Sun Woman I is one of the largest and most important paintings from this crucial series. Included in Krasner’s pivotal 1983-85 travelling retrospective and featured on the front cover of her solo presentation at Robert Miller in 1982, the work is positioned adjacent to Seasons, arguably the artist’s greatest work, in the catalogue raisonné. Leaving evident the circular movements of the arm that delineated the composition, the work nods to the action painting of Krasner’s late husband but has an explosive ebullience that sets it apart from the work of her contemporaries. The measured play of color and form, pigment and canvas, scumbled and opaque paint creates what Griselda Pollock has described as “a dancing space…not like the literal dance performed by Pollock around his canvas and mythicized in photo session and film by Hans Namuth…[but rather] a created effect, a produced illusion, made through the play of color, the energy of line, the ebullient fullness of the image on the canvas.” (Griselda Pollock, “Killing Men and Dying Women,” in Mieke Bal, ed., The Practice of Cultural Analysis: Exposing Interdisciplinary Interpretation, Stanford, 1999, p. 100)

Indeed, Sun Woman I, to an even greater extent than the other works in the Earth Green series, can be read as a refutation of Pollock’s myth and the prevailing machismo of the age. After all, a huge part of Pollock’s appeal lay in his wild masculinity, and the fashion in which that was reflected in his painting. As Budd Hopper reputedly said, in a telling assessment following the artist's death: “He was the great American painter. If you conceive of such a person… he had to be a real American, not a transplanted European. And he should have big Macho American virtues – he should be rough and tumble American…and he should be allowed the great American vice, the Hemingway vice, of being a drunk… Everything about him was right.” (Budd Hopper quoted in Ibid., p. 86) What does this piece of adulatory mythologizing tell us about the reception of Pollock’s art? Determinedly American to the point of mild xenophobia, ruled by ungovernable urges and forces to reveal an inherent genius (at this juncture the Drip Paintings were thought of as gestures of wild abandon rather than highly energized but nevertheless controlled compositions that they are now considered to be), and most importantly, powerfully and overwhelmingly masculine; indeed, Pollock embodied the American ideal of the muscle-bound cowboy. In this context, the insistent femininity of Sun Woman I appears defiant. Undulating curves delineate breasts, buttocks and lips before giving way to green shoots in the upper left corner representing new life. As Barbara Rose observes in her essay for the 1984-85 retrospective, stalk-like limbs draw the composition up the canvas, lining up vertically with the framing edges, and the “heads and arms suggest flowers in an even further hybridization of form.” (Exh. Cat, New York, The Museum of Modern Art (and travelling), Lee Krasner: A Retrospective, 1983, p. 108) This conjoining of the human realm and the plant kingdom leads Hobbs to conclude that these were “hybrids that were intended to be living forms in a state of metamorphosis.” (Robert Hobbs, Op. Cit., p. 70) Sun Woman I is a work dedicated to fecundity, growth and reproduction, inspired in part by Krasner’s enduring love for the Paleolithic Venus of Willendorf, with the very title signaling this opposition of male and female. Casting itself in binary opposition to Pollock’s Moon Women from the early 1940s, ominous totemic specters that positioned women as entities to be feared, Sun Woman I rejoices in its femininity. Just as the sun is reborn at winter solstice to initiate the new year, the present work represents Krasner’s rebirth as an artist, her declaration of independence.

Pivotal to our understanding of this proclamation of artistic identity is the abrupt incorporation of calligraphic signatures in Krasner’s work. Starting with Listen (1957), she began to incorporate a steadily more abstracted signature in the bottom right corner of the composition, to the point that it would become “an armature for the entire painting.” (Robert Hobbs, “Lee Krasner,” in, Exh. Cat. Los Angeles Museum of Art (and travelling), Lee Krasner, 1999, p. 130) This inclusion was in diametric opposition to the prevailing trend, which saw the Abstract Expressionists largely omit to sign their works, allowing their signature image – Gottlieb’s burst, Pollock’s drip, Newman’s zip – to speak for their artistic identity. Krasner’s inclusion of a signature can thus be read as both a rebellion and a parody of the idea of a signature image, especially in the context of an artist who was constantly reinventing her practice. However, it is also an invocation of self-hood, not, as Hobbs argues, “a holistic sense of self,” but rather fragments of the artist's persona in the form of both the signature and the emergent forms. This reflects the other key undertone of the Earth Green series – as much as they are a declaration of artistic identity and a radical break both formally and conceptually, they were also cathartic works following the death of her husband. Speaking years later, the artist recalled: “I can remember that when I was painting Listen which is so high keyed in color…it looks like such a happy painting… I almost didn’t see it, because tears were literally pouring down.” (Lee Krasner quoted in Ibid., pp. 130-37)

Although the Earth Green series undeniably saw Krasner grapple with Pollock, making explicit reference to his earlier works, the other painter with whom she had to contend was Willem de Kooning, whose Women from the early 1950s were some of the defining images of the era. Retaining a powerful indexicality to the bodily intensity of de Kooning’s gesture and movement, the Women are monstrous creations replete with blood-red smiles and wide staring eyes, imbued with the sensation of both violence and sexuality. They could not be ignored, and as Griselda Pollock observes, presented a serious challenge: “de Kooning was not only the other big name on the current New York scene to be dealt with. He was the painter of Woman…  For an artist of Krasner’s, namely his, generation, that dominance… could not be avoided.” (Griselda Pollock, Op. Cit., p. 100) Needless to say, the contrast between the two representations of women is pronounced. In place of de Kooning’s violent and jagged application of pigment come Krasner’s looping lines, and in place of any objectification comes adulation. The figure is not sexualized so much as she is sexual and fertile, a reclamation of the body from male representation. This is described as “a joyful revelation of body schema on a canvas…a play around presence and absence that is pleasurable because it does not index an obsessive repetition of mastery (Pollock) or the need for violence (de Kooning).” (Ibid., p. 100)

Epitomizing the pervasive sense of life and growth that characterizes the Earth Green series, Sun Woman I is one of Lee Krasner’s masterpieces. Providing the immediate foundation for The Seasons, where the figurative elements of the composition further abstract into an assortment of body parts, the present work is clearly of foundational importance to Krasner’s oeuvre, as evidenced by the extraordinary echo of its bulbous forms and lips in Gaea from 1966 (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York). Conceptually rigorous and aesthetically astounding, Sun Woman I rightly takes its place as one of the most influential, written about and accomplished paintings of Krasner’s career, and gives weight to her friend Edward Albee’s glowing review of her oeuvre in the catalogue for her show at Robert Miller Gallery: “I will book no interference when I assert that Lee Krasner is not only the finest woman painter the U.S. has produced in this century but – since sex is not really the vital matter here – is right in the top of the pile of the great 20th century American artists, period.” (Edward Albee, "Considering Krasner," Exh. Cat., New York, Robert Miller Gallery, Lee Krasner Paintings 1965 to 1970, 1991, n.p.)