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Perilous Night

Purple, black, blue inked drawing of shapes, human arm, music sheet.
Art © Jasper Johns/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

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  • Purple, black, blue inked drawing of shapes, human arm, music sheet.




Jasper Johns
American, born 1930

About this artwork

Jasper Johns began his career in the mid-1950s by re-creating, with great precision, such familiar images as targets, letters, numbers, and flags. Although his subject matter has become less commonplace, he continues to “borrow” from the public domain. Perilous Night, for instance, owes its title to a pivotal and expressive piece of music written by the American composer John Cage (1912–1992) in 1945. Both score and cover sheet are rendered on the right-hand side of the drawing with Johns’s characteristically fluid handling of ink. On the sheet’s left side is a freehand rendition—abstracted, reversed, and turned ninety degrees—of a single, terror-stricken soldier from the Resurrection panel of Matthias Grünewald’s sixteenth-century masterwork the Isenheim Altarpiece (Unterlinden Museum, Colmar). Between the soldier and the musical score is a black imprint of Johns’s right arm, evidence perhaps of the creative power that can merge two disparate images into a cogent statement. The overcome soldier witnessing the Resurrection of Christ and a piece of music marking a key transition in a composer’s career both point to “perilous nights” that can change the course of a human life. Characteristically, Johns also explored the same subject in different media. This somberly colored drawing derives from a painting of the same name (1982; National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC).


Currently Off View


Prints and Drawings


Jasper Johns


Perilous Night


United States (Artist's nationality:)

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.



Higgins ink on frosted mylar


Signed, dated, and inscribed, recto, lower right, in ink: "J Johns / Stony Point, N.Y. / August 1982"


85.3 × 109.8 cm (33 5/8 × 43 1/4 in.)

Credit Line

Through prior gift of Mary and Leigh Block; Harold L. Stuart Endowment

Reference Number



Art © Jasper Johns/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

Extended information about this artwork

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