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Harold Rosenberg Photo

Harold Rosenberg Artworks

Art Historian and Critic

Born: February 2, 1906 - Brooklyn, NY
Died: July 11, 1978 - New York, NY

Ideas and Analysis by Harold Rosenberg of Important Artists and Artworks

Girl before a Mirror (1932)

Artist: Pablo Picasso

This mid-life painting by Picasso, while made before "Abstract Expressionism" or "Action Painting" were ever part of our vocabulary, is an apt example of painting as an event. Rosenberg often writes about the artist getting inside an image and developing a relationship with his canvas, and in Girl before a Mirror, Picasso is not only jumping into the canvas, but depicting his woman (possibly his beloved Marie-Thérèse) doing likewise with her reflection.

Oil on canvas - The Museum of Modern Art, New York

Arshile Gorky: Organisation (1933-36)

Organisation (1933-36)

Artist: Arshile Gorky

The artist Arshile Gorky is a complex figure; born in Turkish Armenia, he later adopted the surname of a Russian writer, and schooled himself in the works of Joan Miró, Paul Cézanne, and Pablo Picasso before immersing himself in Surrealism and later, Abstract Expressionism. Gorky's artistic evolution, as it were, provides a wonderful example for Rosenberg's discussion of "Redcoatism" and "Coonskinism" in the essay 'Parable of American Painting.' It suggests that Gorky has so fully digested the history of modern painting that he is no longer encumbered by the need to learn, and to follow its rules - he can begin anew.

Oil on canvas - The National Gallery of Art, Washington DC

Piet Mondrian: Trafalgar Square (1939-43)

Trafalgar Square (1939-43)

Artist: Piet Mondrian

One topic that fascinated Rosenberg was radicalism and revolution in art; not an easy thing to grasp. He didn't believe that radical art had anything to do with political radicalism, but with the artist's ability to "express his entire personality" in the canvas. When he looked upon Mondrian's strange and minimalist cityscapes, like the one seen above, he saw Mondrian "conceiving 'healthy and beautiful cities by opposing buildings and empty spaces in an equilibrated way.'" This was, according to Rosenberg, a New Order of painting.

Oil on canvas - The Museum of Modern Art, New York

Fire Island (1946)

Artist: Willem de Kooning

When Rosenberg first identified Action Painting as an event in and of the canvas, he was almost certainly considering the works of Willem de Kooning. In Fire Island, there is an event, or a series of them, in progress. In his essay 'Everyman a Professional,' Rosenberg writes that "The public receives the work in the form of ideas into which it has been translated. Thus every modern work of art is in essence criticism; the artist paints it as an assertion in paint about painting, and the audience admires it as an assertion in paint about words." When Rosenberg looks at a de Kooning work, he sees the artist not only communicating with the canvas, but with the act of painting itself, as well as with his audience.

Oil on paper - The Margulies Family Collection

Harold Rosenberg (1956)

Artist: Elaine de Kooning

This Rosenberg portrait by Elaine de Kooning is among the finest of all the artist's portraits. She was renowned among friends and fellow artists (among them Pollock, poet Frank O'Hara, and of course, Rosenberg) for painting her portraits while simultaneously conducting social salons. She would throw paint onto the canvas in that frantic, Abstract Expressionist manner, to the point where each work was an event in its own right. One writer commented, "It looked more like me than the real thing." We can interpret that Elaine de Kooning was creating events that brought her subjects closer to themselves, or what Rosenberg called "the exhilaration of an adventure over depths in which he [artist and/or subject] might find reflected the true image of his identity."

Oil on canvas - National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC

Paul Klee: Red Balloon (1922)

Red Balloon (1922)

Artist: Paul Klee

In Rosenberg's essay "Revolution and the Concept of Beauty," the critic cites Paul Klee's quote: "I want to be as though newborn, knowing nothing, absolutely nothing about Europe .. to be almost primitive." According to Rosenberg, Klee is not expressing a desire to revert to his innocent, childhood self; what he desires is an ignorance of all the "revolutionary" moments in art that have come before him. He wants his art to be its own revolution, and not some dot in the time line of revolutionary European artists. Klee's Red Balloon is one of many works that, although it may appear innocent, was labeled "degenerate" by the Nazis in the artist's native Germany. The colors are indeed playful, and the geometric shapes seem to dance, as if from a "newborn" artist discovering his gift for the first time, but due to the small-mindedness of the Third Reich, Klee's work became revolutionary seemingly by accident.

Oil on muslin primed with chalk - The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York

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Content compiled and written by Justin Wolf

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

"Harold Rosenberg Critic Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Justin Wolf
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
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First published on 15 Oct 2012. Updated and modified regularly
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