About This Artwork

Adolph Gottlieb
American, 1903–1974

Pictograph-Symbol, 1942

Gouache on cream wove paper
137.2 x 101.9 cm (54 x 40 1/8 in.), without frame
Signed: recto: "Adolph Gottlieb" (lower left in black paint); not inscribed on verso

Through prior gift of Society for Contemporary American Art, 2003.181

Art © The Adolph and Esther Gottlieb Foundation / Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

Adolph Gottlieb’s Pictograph series, created between 1941 and 1951, represents the artist’s early efforts at reconciling elements of abstraction with an exploration of the subconscious. To make these works, the artist laid down a grid as an organizing structure. Using a process of free association and intuition influenced by the Surrealist technique of automatism, or automatic drawing, he decided to employ symbols to fill the grid. Mining eclectic source material from non-Western cultures and modern art, Gottlieb invented a pictorial language that aimed to represent and convey universal ideas to the viewer.

Exhibition, Publication and Ownership Histories

Exhibition History

New York, Wildenstein and Company Gallery, “Second Annual Federation of Modern Painters and Sculptors,” May 21–June 10, 1942, cat. 25 (ill.), as “Symbol.”

New York, Artists Gallery, “Adolph Gottlieb: Paintings,” December 28, 1942–January 11, 1943, cat. 1, as “Symbol.”

Art Institute of Chicago, “The Fifty-Fourth Annual Exhibition of American Paintings and Sculpture,” October 28–December 12, 1943, cat. 87, as “Symbol.”

Vermont, Bennington College Gallery, “A Retrospective Show of the Paintings of Adolph Gottlieb,” April 23–May 5, 1954; traveled to Williamstown, Mass., Lawrence Museum, Williams College, May 7–23, 1954, cat. 2, as “Symbol.”

New York, Jewish Museum, “Adolph Gottlieb,” November 17–December 31, 1957, cat. 2.

New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, and New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, “Adolph Gottlieb,” February 14–March 31, 1968, February 14–April 7, 1968, cat. by Robert Doty and Diane Waldman; traveled to Washington, D. C., Corcoran Gallery of Art, April 26–June 2, 1968, and Waltham, Mass., Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University (Guggenheim, Washington, D. C., and Waltham only), cat. 2. For a general discussion of Pictographs, see pp. 9–17.

Ithaca, N. Y., Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University, “Abstract Expressionism: The Formative Years,” March 30–May 14, 1978, cat. by Robert Carleton Hobbs and Gail Levin; traveled to Tokyo, Seibu Museum of Art, June 17–July 12, 1978, and New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, October 5–December 3, 1978, fig. 67 (photo).

Omaha, Joslyn Art Museum, “Adolph Gottlieb Paintings: 1921–1956,” May 12–June 24, 1979; traveled to Phoenix Art Museum, September 4–October 14, 1979, and Manchester, New Hampshire, Currier Gallery of Art, March 8–April 27, 1980, pp. 31 (ill.), cat. 15. For a general discussion of Pictographs, see pp. 28–52.

Washington, D. C., Corcoran Gallery of Art, “Adolph Gottlieb: A Retrospective,” April 24–June 6, 1981, organized by Sanford Hirsch and Mary Davis MacNaughton; traveled to Tampa Museum, August 15–October 17, 1981, Toledo Museum of Art, November 7–December 19, 1981, Archer M. Huntington Art Gallery, University of Texas at Austin, January 9–February 20, 1982, Michigan, DeWaters Art Center, Flint Institute of Art, March 18–April 24, 1982, Indianapolis Museum of Art, May 15–June 19, 1982, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, July 10–August 21, 1982, and Buffalo, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, September 11–October 31, 1982, pp. 38–40, as “Symbol,” cat. 36 (color ill.).

Brooklyn Museum, “Image and Reflection: Adolph Gottlieb’s Pictographs and African Sculpture,” October 26, 1989–March 26, 1990, exh. pamphlet, n.pag.

Roland Gibson Gallery, Potsdam College of the State University of New York, “From Omaha to Abstract Expressionism: American Artists’ Responses to World War II,” March 6–April 5, 1992, p. 19.

Washington, D. C., Phillips Collection, “The Pictographs of Adolph Gottlieb,” September 24, 1994–January 2, 1995, organized by Sanford Hirsch for the Adolph and Esther Gottlieb Foundation; traveled to Maine, Portland Museum of Art, February 4–April 2, 1995, Brooklyn Museum, April 21–August 27, 1995, and Little Rock, Arkansas Art Center, November 30, 1995–January 28, 1996, pp. 54, 64, pl. 5 (color ill.).

Germany, Pfalzgalerie Kaiserslautern, “Malerei des amerikanischen abstrakten Expressionismus: Jackson Pollock, Robert Motherwell, Adolph Gottlieb, Richard Pousette-Dart,” November 2, 1997–January 4, 1998, pp. 73, 82 (color ill.).

Cologne, Museum Ludwig, “Kunst-Welten im Dialog: von Gaugin zur globalen Gegenwart,” November 5, 1999–March 19, 2000, p. 246, cat. 160, fig. 3 (ill.).

Valencia, IVAM Centre Julio González, “Adolph Gottlieb: A Survey,” February 1–April 22, 2001, organized by the Adolph and Esther Gottlieb Foundation; traveled to Fundación Juan March, May 11–July 15, 2001, Wuppertal, Germany, Von der Heydt Museum, August 12–October 11, 2001, and New York, Jewish Museum, October 11, 2002–March 2, 2003, cat. 9 (color ill.).

Publication History

Barnett Newman, “La pintura de Tamayo y Gottlieb,” “La Revista Belga,” 2 (April 1945), p. 25 (ill.). For a general discussion of Pictographs, see Barnett Newman, “The Painting of Tamayo and Gottlieb,” in John P. O’Neill, ed., “Barnett Newman: Selected Writings and Interviews” (Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), pp. 76–77.

Charles W. Millard, “Adolph Gottlieb,” “The Hudson Review” 35, 4 (Winter 1982–83), pp. 615–16.

Maurice Tuchman et al., “The Spiritual in Art: Abstract Painting, 1890–1985,” exh. cat. (Los Angeles County Museum of Art/Abbeville Press, 1986), pp. 278–79 (ill.). For a general discussion of Pictographs, see pp. 280–81.

Stephen Polcari, “Abstract Expressionism and the Modern Experience” (Cambridge University Press,1991), p. 166, pl. 10 (color ill.). For a general discussion of Pictographs, see pp. 166–71.

W. Jackson Rushing, “Native American Art and the New York Avant-Garde: A History of Cultural Primitivism” (University of Texas Press, 1995), pp. 161–62, fig. 5-28 (ill.).

Ownership History

Sold by the artist, New York, to Kenneth MacPherson, New York, 1945; given to Esther Gottlieb, 1948; bequeathed to the Adolph and Esther Gottlieb Foundation, 1988; given to the Art Institute (in exchange), 2003.




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