American (1899-1953) "NUMBER 2"

oil on wallpaper, 30 x 18 1/4 inches,
signed "Tomlin" lower right, inscribed "Pour Richard Sobel 1952,

Bon #2 Dalton School, Bradley Tomlin" on the reverse.

Bradley Tomlin was born 1899 in Syracuse, New York. He died in 1953 in New York City abruptly culminating a career and a lifespan concurrent with the Abstract Expressionist movement in the United States.


After graduating with a degree in painting from Syracuse University, Tomlin moved to New York City. There, he worked as a magazine and commercial illustrator. In 1923, he went to Paris on a fellowship to study at the Academie Colarossi and the Academie de la Grande Chaumiere. In 1926, he had his first solo exhibition and in 1929 he sold a painting to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, his first sale to a museum.


During the depression from 1932-1941, Tomlin taught painting at Sarah Lawrence College and other preparatory schools in New York. During this period, he was primarily painting in a cubist style. MoMA’s 1936 exhibition “Fantastic Art, Dada and Surrealism” had a profound effect on Tomlin as it did on many other artists of the day. Tomlin’s work after this show became increasingly abstract and surrealist.


In 1945, Tomlin met Adolph Gottlieb and through him some of the leading Abstract Expressionists including Robert Motherwell, Phillip Guston and Jackson Pollock. At this point in Tomlin’s career, his work became assertively distinctive. He stopped teaching in order to focus on his own painting. He began to experiment with automatism using themes like calligraphy and typographic shapes. In the 1940s and 50s his work was abstract but focused on geometry and order.


The present work “Number 2” was created in 1952 at a time when Tomlin had found his own artistic voice, a year before his untimely death. This work on wallpaper was probably a special commission for a patron at the Dalton School where Tomlin taught during the 1930s. Preserved intact and signed, this work demonstrates Tomlin’s interest in automatism, repetition and abstraction.


In 2016 the Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art at SUNY New Paltz together with the Everson Museum of Art, Syracuse, New York organized the first retrospective and catalog of Tomlin’s work since 1975. A review of the exhibition noted, “It is largely because Tomlin avoided the automatic, action-packed swagger of his compatriots that he’s often denied true Abstract Expressionist honors. Others see, through the unobtrusive, quiet, gracious demeanor of a gay man from the 1940s, an artist who found it necessary to shun all bravado. Some cite his early death and paucity of extant Expressionist works as reasons why he may never have fully realized his vision. However, setting these asides aside, this retrospective provides a fresh view of Tomlin as an artist whose keen understanding of the structure of a new aesthetic enabled him to distill its visual and psychic energy. He did this fully knowing himself, acknowledging his voice, and expressing it authentically, in irrepressibly original ways.”1


1 Joyce Beckenstein, “Bradley Walker Tomlin, A Retrospective,” in The Brooklyn Rail, Oct. 4, 2016,

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