Adolph Gottlieb - Editions & Works on Paper New York Monday, October 24, 2022 | Phillips
  • In the 1940s, Adolph Gottlieb stopped making preparatory drawings and sketches. He instead turned to printmaking as an initial way to explore ideas for paintings, finding interest with the unique elements of each graphic medium to explore ‘feeling’ in his early Abstract Expressionist language. Pictograph, a strikingly graphic image with a flat and linear composition, has no clear beginning or end. The directness of the work embodies the spontaneity of this print as well as its open-endedness; it is reflective of ‘time’ through a Surrealist lens. Gottlieb began making works that would belong to his Pictograph series in 1941 and sought to create a kind of universal language through them. He saw his imagery and ‘symbols’ as easily relatable “because of [their] roots in a common humanity,” wrote Linda Konheim Kramer, in her essay “The Graphic Sources of Gottlieb’s Pictographs.” Inspired by African, Oceanic, and Native American cultures, Gottlieb sought to connect his imagery with our subconscious minds. The “characters” and “geometric shapes all participate in the history of man's imagery.” 

    ". . . My favorite symbols were those which I didn’t understand. If I knew too well what the symbol signified, then I would eliminate it because then it got to be boring. I wanted these symbols to have. . . a certain kind of ambiguity and mystery." —Adolph Gottlieb 

    The compartmentalized imagery found in Gottlieb's Pictograph is nonspecific. Looking to artists like “Paul Klee, Picasso, and Miró,” Gottlieb observed how the European Modernists “had reinterpreted ancient art forms in their own work,” wrote Kramer. “The images themselves, although reminiscent of hieroglyphs, are not hieroglyphs but rather signs and symbols drawn from both ancient and modern art as well as Gottlieb's own psyche.” Gottlieb’s imagery and symbols are notably open-ended. He did not mean for the imagery to have meaning or order and instead placed them with free association. 

    In creating this composition Gottlieb utilized the rectilinear grid which allowed for rectangles of varied proportion, famously championed by Piet Mondrian. A structural tool that heavily influenced Modernist artists and architects alike, the grid struck Gottlieb as a way to present ancient imagery through a new form. “An image maker at heart,” wrote Charlotta Kotik in her essay “The Legacy of Signs: Reflections on Adolph Gottlieb’s Pictographs,” “Gottlieb used the grid filled with the fragments of various objects in a manner that allowed him to incorporate these figurative elements within a modernist format.” For Gottlieb, the grid, a mechanism of Modernism, became a classical form, built to contain his signs and symbols.


    Adolph Gottlieb, Vigil, 1948, The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. Artwork: © Adolph & Esther Gottlieb Foundation, Inc. / Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

    Other impressions of this linocut are in the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington D.C., and the Davis Museum and Cultural Center at Wellesley College, Massachusetts collections. 

    • Provenance

      Gift of the artist
      Cecil Hemley, New York (cousin of Adolph Gottlieb)
      by descent to the present owners

    • Exhibited

      Adolph Gottlieb: Early Prints, traveling exhibition (another example exhibited)
      Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College, November 7, 2006 – January 7, 2007
      Milwaukee Art Museum, May 24, 2007 – August 9, 2007
      Art Museum of the University of Memphis, September 8, 2007 – October 20, 2007
      Pollock-Krasner House and Study Center, May 1, 2008 – July 27, 2008

    • Literature

      Richard S. Field 39
      see Associated American Artists p. 20 (presumably no. 31)


Pictograph (F. 39)

c. 1946
Linocut, on wove paper, with presumably full margins.
I. 11 3/4 x 14 3/4 in. (29.8 x 37.5 cm)
S. 13 1/4 x 16 3/8 in. (33.7 x 41.6 cm)

Signed in pencil, from the possible edition of 25, published by the artist, framed.

Full Cataloguing

$12,000 - 18,000 

Sold for $15,120

Contact Specialist

212 940 1220

Editions & Works on Paper

New York Auction 24 - 26 October 2022