American, 1937-1966

Untitled, 1963

gouache on paper
signed and dated lower left "B. Thompson '63"
23 1/2 x 18 3/8 inches (sight)

  • Provenance: The Drawing Shop Gallery, New York, New York; John G. and Kimiko Powers Collection; property of a Non-Profit Organization, received as a gift from the above.
  • Exhibited: New York, New York, The Drawing Shop Gallery, November 1963.

    Framed dimensions: 30 3/4 x 25 1/2 x 1 1/4 inches

    Tags: works on paper, modern / modernist / modernism, Black artist, African-American artist, mid-century, Abstract Expressionism, 20th century, modern / contemporary

    Robert Louis (Bob) Thompson was born in 1937, in Louisville, Kentucky, where he grew up in a middle class family. His father died in a car accident in 1950 and at the age of thirteen, he was sent to live with his sister and her husband, Robert Holmes, an artist. Holmes encouraged Thompson's artistic inclinations, offering guidance and inspiration. Thompson graduated from an academically rigorous all-black high school in 1955 and then enrolled as a pre-med student at Boston University. He soon realized, however, that painting, not medicine, was his true passion and transferred to the art program at the University of Louisville, where fellow African American artist Robert Gwathmey was a graduate student in Fine Art.

    During these years, Thompson's early abstractionist style gave way to a more figural approach, a shift the artist credited to a summer spent in Provincetown, Massachusetts in 1958. There, Thompson met a group of emerging artists, including Red Grooms, Emilio Cruz, and Gandy Brodie, who, in contradiction to New York trends, embraced figures in their work. Deeply influenced by these non-conforming artists, Thompson modified his own style to incorporate figures.

    Thompson was inspired by the play of good and evil, which creates both order and chaos in the relationships of man, animals, and nature. In his vision, nude figures of women express nature's sensuality, while birds symbolize power and freedom as well as his preoccupation with the ultimate flight of death. Thompson revered the Old Masters, including Piero della Francesca, Masaccio, and Poussin, and used their works as points of departure. In The Spinning, Spinning, Turning, Directing, he reinterpreted images from three of Goya's Los Caprichos: Tale Bearers, Hobgoblins, and Rise and Fall. Whether sensual, spiritual, or tortured, Thompson's paintings are metaphors of both the rational and irrational forces of nature.1

    Bob Thompson returned to New York in 1963, where he rented an apartment on the Lower East Side, close to the studio of friend and fellow artist Lester Johnson, who helped Thompson get a one-man show at Martha Jackson's gallery that year. The show received favorable reviews, and, as Judith Wilson writes, "in rapid succession, mainstream art-world doors began opening to the twenty-six-year-old artist." 2

    The present lot, Untitled from 1963, is an example from this pivotal time in his career, as critics began to recognize his work. He gained unprecedented status for an African American artist by 1965 and was living an extravagant life-stye. He followed his dream of returning to Rome to study Renaissance art. It was there that he succumbed to complications from gallbladder surgery, ending his life and career.

    Thompson's works can be found in collections at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Modern Art, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City; the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian American Art Museum, and National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC; Art Institute of Chicago; Detroit Institute of Arts Museum; Minneapolis Institute of Arts; New Orleans Museum of Art; Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, Durham, North Carolina; and Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, Connecticut.

    1 Lynda Roscoe Hartigan African-American Art: 19th and 20th-Century Selections (brochure. Washington, D.C.: National Museum of American Art)
    2 Judith Wilson, "Garden of Music," in "Bob Thompson," exh. cat. (New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 1999)
  • Condition: In overall very good condition; no apparent restoration; a pencil eraser sized area of lifting upper left center; the light purple areas appear to have faded which is evidently typical for this Pigment he used; a few other minor surface anomalies; additional photos available upon request

    We are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Shannon’s is merely a subjective qualified opinion. Frames on all paintings are sold "As Is". Frames may need some conservation. NOTWITHSTANDING THIS REPORT OR ANY DISCUSSIONS CONCERNING CONDITION OF A LOT, ALL LOTS ARE OFFERED AND SOLD “AS IS” IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE CONDITIONS OF SALE. 

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