Janet Sobel - New Now New York Wednesday, September 27, 2023 | Phillips

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  • untitled, c. 1948, reflects the indelible mark Janet Sobel made on the art world with her innovative and groundbreaking work. Characterized by her now renowned energetic and spontaneous use of paint, the work brims with curiosity as her figures strain themselves toward the surface of the canvas. Nine unique faces investigate the viewer, their bodies folding over each other with a childlike energy in order to gain the best perspective.


    A housewife in Brighton Beach, Sobel’s journey to artistic acclaim is as remarkable as her art itself. Sobel emigrated from her home in Ukraine in 1908 and resided in New York for over 30 years, marrying and raising five children, before finding art making. In her Surrealist figurative works, Sobel drew from her childhood experiences in Ukraine, including motifs from Ukrainian folk art and traditional dress. We see the vinok, a traditional Ukrainian headdress worn by girls and unmarried women, reimagined in untitled as bright brushstrokes that frame the faces like flower petals.


    Sobel drifted between Surrealism and pure Abstraction in her practice, experimenting with a then-unheard of drip technique to create unorthodox and imaginative compositions like Milky Way, 1945, The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Her experimentation has solidified her enduring legacy as a precursor for the Abstract Expressionist movement that championed artists like Jackson Pollock.


    Sobel’s ability to convey emotion and movement through her sophisticated marks on the canvas are a testament to her innovative vision — a vision that is now being recognized for its importance to the canon. In 1946, following her solo exhibition at the Peggy Guggenheim Art of this Century Gallery, renowned dealer Sidney Janis predicted that “Janet Sobel probably will be eventually known as the most important Surrealist painter in this country.”i “Eventually” may be today.


    Collector’s Digest

    • Sobel’s Milky Way, part of the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York, was included in the museum’s exhibition, In Solidarity, 2022, which sought to highlight works of the last century from artists born in present-day Ukraine.

    • Untitled, c. 1948 was recently included at the Ukrainian Museum, New York, Janet Sobel: Wartime, Apr.-Sep. 2023, Sobel’s first solo exhibition since 1946.

    • Sobel’s abstract work will be presented at the Menil Collection, Houston, Janet Sobel: All Over, Feb. 23-Aug. 11, 2024.



    i Katie White, “Who was Janet Sobel?,” artnet, May 18, 2022, online.


    • Provenance

      Ashley Shapiro
      James Barron Fine Art, Kent, Connecticut
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      New York, The Ukrainian Museum, Janet Sobel: Wartime, April 27–September 2, 2023, p. 48 (illustrated)



gouache on paper mounted on board
13 3/4 x 16 1/2 in. (34.9 x 41.9 cm)
Executed circa 1948.

Full Cataloguing

$20,000 - 30,000 

Sold for $76,200

Contact Specialist

Avery Semjen
Associate Specialist, Head of New Now Sale 
T +1 212 940 1207

New Now

New York Auction 27 September 2023