Esphyr Slobodkina


"Purple Abstraction," 1939

Oil on waxed canvas
Signed lower right: Esphyr; titled and dated on various labels affixed to the frame's plastic backboard and upper portion of the frame
20" H x 20.75" W

  • Provenance: Estate of the Artist
    Property of the Slobodkina Foundation, acquired from the above
  • Exhibited: Santa Fe, NM, LewAllen Galleries,"Esphyr Slobodkina: Crossing Borders," May 26 - June 17, 2023
    Long Island University, New York, Hilllwood Art Museum, "Ilya Bolotowsky and Esphyr Slobodkina: Advocates of Abstract Art," Sept 8-Nov 22, 2008
    New York, NY, D. Wigmore Fine Art, Inc., circa 2010
    New York, NY, Sid Deutsch Gallery, date unknown
  • Notes: Esphyr Slobodkina (1908-2002) was a Russian-Jewish-American artist who was one of the few women to gain public recognition within the field of modern American art during their lifetime. After immigrating to the United States in 1928, Slobodkina enrolled at the National Academy of Design in New York where she would later meet her first husband -- the painter Ilya Bolotowsky.

    Slobodkina was known in the New York art world for a resolute sense of independence which she expressed by continually eschewing the prevailing artistic fashions and conventions of her day. In 1936, Slobodkina co-founded the American Abstract Artists, a group of professional artists who met and exhibited at galleries and museums in New York. As a founding member, Slobodkina had the opportunity to show her work in the group's inaugural exhibition held in New York City in 1937. Despite the small audience for abstract art at this time, many of the artists that Slobodkina showed her work alongside eventually became noted artists: the roster included Josef Albers, Ilya Bolotowsky, Byron Browne, Werner Drewes, Burgoyne Diller, Carl Holty, Ibram Lassaw, Alice Trumbull Mason, Mercedes Matter, George L.K. Morris, and Charles Green Shaw among many others.

    "Purple Abstraction," which is being offered for sale on behalf of the Slobodkina Foundation, was created in 1939. The work shows the artist's concern with geometric planes and flattened pictorial space that would eventually develop into architecturally inspired, hard-edge paintings for which she became well known. The art historian Ilmar Eric Orav once noted about her work: "Even though Slobodkina works with flatness, there is an implied depth without the use of perspective that makes her unique. She simply does it with line. The areas of colors are flat, but her drawing and her color scheme give the illusion of inventive depth that can only exist in painting."

    Slobodkina remained an active member of the American Abstract Artists for several decades. Her work, which was championed by Clement Greenberg early in his career, was featured in important exhibitions at A.E. Gallatin's Museum of Living Art in 1942, and at Peggy Guggenheim's Art of This Century gallery in 1943. Slobodkina was deeply involved in New York City's art scene, showing her work alongside Mark Rothko and Adolph Gottlieb while also entertaining Piet Mondrian at a dinner party in her apartment.

    In addition to her career as an abstract painter, Slobodkina was a noted illustrator of children's books. A noted author, Margaret Wise Brown, who appreciated Slobodkina's artistic vision and visual directness, recruited her to create illustrations for the book "The Little Fireman." Slobodkina would continue to illustrate books for other writers until she started to write her own children's books such as "Caps for Sale," her best-known work which has sold over 2 million copies. In addition to her paintings and illustrations, Slobodkina is known for creating both sculptures and textile works.

    The work of Esphyr Slobodkina has been exhibited alongside artists such as Rosalind Bengelsdorf, Benjamin Benno, Charles Biederman, Giorgio Cavallon, Manierre Dawson, John Ferren, Suzy Frelinghuysen, Albert (A.E.) Gallatin, Fritz Glarner, Arshille Gorky, John Graham, Balcomb Greene, Gertrude Greene, Hananiah Harari, Carl Holty, Harry Holtzman, Charles Howard, Frederick Kann, Michael Loew, Betty Parsons, Irene Rice Pereira, Ad Reinhardt, Leon Polk Smith, Louis Stone, Albert Swinden, Vaclav Vytlacil, Charmion von Wiegand, Jean Xceron, and Wilfrid Zofbaum among many others.
  • Condition: Visual: Overall good condition. Very fine craquelure in the dark brown pigment used in the right half of the work. The canvas with a soft ripple in the lower left corner, possibly attendant to the canvas being slightly loose from the stretcher. Two very small and unobtrusive pinpoint-sized flecks of pigment loss in the red pigment in the lower left quadrant.

    Blacklight: Areas of primarily pea-sized spots of touch-up scattered throughout, mostly in the outer edges and corners.

    Frame: 27.5" H x 35.5" W x 4" D

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February 27, 2024 12:00 PM PST
Monrovia, CA, US

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