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Artist

Adolph Gottlieb (1903-1974)

Title

Vigil

Date

1948

Medium

Oil on canvas

Dimensions

Overall: 36 1/8 × 48 in. (91.8 × 121.9 cm)

Credit line

Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Purchase

Accession number

49.2

Object Label

An important example of the pictograph series of paintings that Adolph Gottlieb produced between 1941 and 1951, Vigil is structured as a loose grid comprised of individual compartments. Gottlieb’s composition of the pictographs was largely the result of free association: he started with a template of rectilinear cells and, in a process reminiscent of the Surrealists’ method of automatic writing, impulsively filled them in with allusive symbols and totemic forms. Often the images in these heavily worked canvases achieve an uneasy compositional harmony; in Vigil the somewhat menacing quality of the teeth and eyes is counterbalanced by the biomorphic lyricism of oval outlines and snaky squiggles. Gottlieb emphasized the non-referential quality of his pictographs, insisting that their various signs and emblems “could not be read like a rebus.” At the same time, he acknowledged that “by the strange juxtapositions that occurred, a new kind of significance stemmed from this juxtaposition.”

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