Featured Work (Dec): “Christmas Morning” 1951

Jack Tworkov, Christmas Morning, Newark Museum of Art, abstract expressionism, 1951, New York School

“Christmas Morning,” 1951, Oil on paper mounted on Masonite, 29 1/8 x 38 7/8 in. (74 x 98.7 cm), Collection of the Newark Museum, Newark, NJ. Gift of Walter K. Gutman (57.131)

The 1950s marked an important decade in Jack Tworkov’s career and in the history of American art. The rising optimism of a post war world brought momentum to the Abstract Expressionism movement in New York. Christmas Morning a work by Jack Tworkov, currently in the collection of the Newark Museum, was painted at the beginning of this critical decade. A decade that would see New York City surpass Paris as the capital of the art world.

Christmas Morning, is nothing more than a still life; a table randomly set with glasses and plates. However Tworkov, with a discerning brush and a somber palette, deconstructs then rebuilding the composition. Describing his process in his journal Tworkov wrote, “Life in the most primeval sense seemed to me precious. I had a revulsion against the intellectual in my own nature and in art. I turned to still life as a release from subject and spectacular composition.”(1) With its quick gestures in paint, Christmas Morning reflects the artist’s intention to “strive for simple statement, direct, spontaneous, enthusiastic.”(2)

The still life as a subject was the focus of much of Tworkov’s during the mid to late 1940s. A great number of examples can be seen by visiting the catalogue raisonne of works on canvas by the artist. The 1940s were a difficult time for all artists. Tworkov in particular noted writing in January 1947:

I must have had some little success—however far from the set goal—for both artists and the most ordinary persons reacted spontaneously—for the first time I had some little but genuine appreciation of my painting. It was then I thought I wanted to paint pictures people would love.

But a year later I lost myself again. Once more war talk thickened the air we breathed. Anxiety had me in its grip again. I had difficulty fighting off the pressing gloom.

On top of that the galleries looked at my still life pictures and wouldn’t touch them. I could see that some like the pictures—but abstraction and sophistication was the rage—I was too late. My painting turned to introspection—again efforts to portray the sense of being lost in a meaningless universe—to problems of form and style—the whole intellectual paraphernalia—to automatic drawing.

The crisis in my painting now is a crisis of subject.(3)

Tworkov’s Christmas Morning was purchased by the patron and collector Walter Knowlton Gutman in the early 1950s and donated to the Newark Museum in 1957. Gutman, a former professional art critic turned high standing member of the New York Society of Security Analysts, described himself in an article published by the magazine Investor as “a Proust in Wall Street.” In a profile for The New Yorker, John Brooks noted that Gutman was “probably the only writer of a broker’s stock-market letter whose readers count on him not only for financial advice but also for cultural commentary, psychological insights, and even spiritual guidance.”(4)

Gutman began collecting works by Jack Tworkov and his contemporaries, including Gorky, Kline, and Guston, in the late 1940s. “Tworkov as a matter of fact was one of the most knowledgeable,”(5) wrote Gutman, who had aspirations of becoming an artist himself and studied with the sculptor Ben Karp. It was through Karp that he was introduced to Tworkov as Gutman explains:

It was just one of those accidents that Ben was a friend of Jack Tworkov. Tworkov’s studio was in the rear of the same floor that De Kooning had his studio […] when Ben got the teaching job and moved away, he sent me to Tworkov, who had a number of evening pupils also.

I realized when I opened the door and met Tworkov’s stern eyes that I would either become a painter or not. Tworkov really didn’t have much enthusiasm for pupils.  He was much more a real painter, but like most artists he couldn’t make it all by painting. De Kooning was teaching too—at Yale once a week. One day I brought a sketch of his—it, as many, was lying on the floor. They were all beautiful. I said, “Don’t throw them away.” He said, “Do you want to buy one? I said “Sure—how much? He said “$25.” he was a little sorry later after it was framed, but even so, at that time it wouldn’t have been much.

De Kooning and Tworkov both showed at the tiny Egan Gallery, as did Kline, Guston, Nakian, and others now famous, and so in this accidental way I landed right in the midst of a great movement.(6)

A major portion of Gutman’s collection resides at Bowdoin College Museum of Art, Brunswick, ME, and  includes four works by Jack Tworkov.

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(1) Jack Tworkov. “The Extreme of the Middle: Writings of Jack Tworkov.” New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009, p. 33.
(2) Jack Tworkov. “The Extreme of the Middle: Writings of Jack Tworkov.” New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009, p. 33.
(3) Jack Tworkov. “The Extreme of the Middle: Writings of Jack Tworkov.” New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009, p. 33.
(4) John Brooks. “Profiles: Walter Knowlton Gutman, a Proust in Wall Street.” The New Yorker, June 20, 1959, p. 41.
(5) Walter Gutman. “The Walter K. Gutman Collection,” exhibition catalogue, 1966, Bowdoin College Museum of Art, Brunswick, ME, p. 11.
(6) Walter Gutman. “The Walter K. Gutman Collection,” exhibition catalogue, 1966, Bowdoin College Museum of Art, Brunswick, ME, p. 9-10.

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