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Figure 4

A work made of encaustic and newspaper on canvas.

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  • A work made of encaustic and newspaper on canvas.




Jasper Johns
American, born 1930

About this artwork

Once asked about his use of numerals as subjects for painting, Johns replied, “They seemed to me preformed,
conventional, depersonalized, factual, exterior elements.” That is, they freed Johns from any obligation to construct a pictorial narrative or express his interior life. Despite the ease with which we recognize the number 4, Johns plays with its meaning in the title: the word figure winks at the tradition of “figural” (or representational) painting, and the number 4 sounds like the word for, leaving the title entirely open-ended, like an unfinished sentence. Meanwhile the monumental 4 of the painting itself is almost lost amid the lively patchwork of brushstrokes.


On View, Gallery 292


Contemporary Art


Jasper Johns


Figure 4


United States (Object made in)

Date  Dates are not always precisely known, but the Art Institute strives to present this information as consistently and legibly as possible. Dates may be represented as a range that spans decades, centuries, dynasties, or periods and may include qualifiers such as c. (circa) or BCE.

Made 1959


Encaustic and newspaper on canvas


51.4 × 39.4 cm (20 1/4 × 15 1/2 in.)

Credit Line

Gift of Edlis Neeson Collection

Reference Number


Extended information about this artwork

Object information is a work in progress and may be updated as new research findings emerge. To help improve this record, please email . Information about image downloads and licensing is available here.


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