The Sacrifice of Kronos

Theodoros Stamos, The Sacrifice of Kronos, No. 2, 1948, Oil on hardboard, 48 x 36 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC, Acquired 1949 © Estate of Theodoros Stamos, New York

Sacrifice of Kronos, No. 2 by Theodoros Stamos, along with his Sacrifice of Kronos and Saga of Ancient Alphabets (all on view in Ten Americans), allude to the interconnected realms of nature, myth, and ancient culture that figure prominently in Stamos’s art. Based on a Greek myth, Sacrifice of Kronos is inspired by the dramatic story of Kronos, king of the Titans, who consumes his children to prevent the fulfillment of a prophesy that one of them will grow up to usurp his throne. When his wife wraps a stone in clothing to fool Kronos into thinking it was their newborn son Zeus, Titan consumes the stone. Rather than showing the eventual fate of Titan dethroned by Zeus, Stamos evokes the moment of sacrifice with the presence of a fetal-like form trapped under the weight of the massive boulder. While more commanding in scale than works by Klee, Stamos’s painting, with its metaphorical allusions to broader themes of birth, death, power, and sacrifice, are reminiscent of Klee’s quest to uncover universal aspects of human experience.

This work is on view in Ten Americans: After Paul Klee through May 6, 2018.

The Supreme Doodler

Robert Motherwell, Concept of Woman, 1946. Crayon and watercolor on paper, The Phillips Collection, Gift of Louis and Susan Stamberg, 2014

“One of my natural talents that I don’t use enough in painting is line and paint both. I guess the closest example, though he does miniatures compared to what I do, is Paul Klee.”—Robert Motherwell

obert Motherwell had extensive contact with Paul Klee’s art, both in reproductions in books he owned, as well as in the “hundreds of Klees” he saw in exhibitions in New York. Professing his admiration for Klee as a “supreme doodler,” Motherwell equated doodling to automatic drawing, a method he was first introduced to by Surrealist Roberto Matta in 1941. “I think doodling is strictly one of the alternative ways of drawing. So far as I know, every Paul Klee, after his maturity, invariably began with doodling.”

In his witty Concept of Woman, Motherwell exploits his talent as a doodler in both line and color. Doodling was, however, only the first step in a dynamically evolving process Motherwell called “the automatic and formal beauty that is the end result of an emerging process.” In Concept of Woman, Motherwell begins the composition with freely drawn lines and circular forms that eventually achieve a structural rhythm evocative of a female figure. The “real content” of painting, Motherwell argued, was an expression of a person’s mysterious and elusive qualities, perhaps an aspect that underlies this work’s evocative title.

This work is on view in Ten Americans: After Paul Klee through May 6, 2018.

Hot Sun and Desert Dust in Paul Klee’s Colors

Paul Klee, Arab Song, 1932. Oil on burlap, 35 7/8 x 25 3/8 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC, Acquired 1940

Arab Song recalls Paul Klee’s love of North Africa, first experienced in Tunisia in 1914 and reawakened in 1928 in Egypt. It was within the intense light-filled landscapes of North Africa that Klee discovered color. Klee literally infused color into Arab Song, an aspect that drew Duncan Phillips to this work. Phillips wrote, “With only a raw canvas stained to a few pale tones, he evoked a hot sun, desert dust, faded clothes, veiled women, an exotic plant, a romantic interpretation of North Africa.” Bold for the time, Klee’s method of directly applying color onto an unprimed canvas became a call to arms in the 1950s for a young generation of Color Field painters, such as Gene Davis and Kenneth Noland.

This work is on view in Ten Americans: After Paul Klee through May 6, 2018.