Adolph Gottlieb (1903-1974)

New York born Adolph Gottlieb is recognized as one of the originators of Abstract Expressionism.


In 1920, Gottlieb began studying at the Art Students League, New York, and, a year later, embarked upon a tour around Europe, traveling to France, where he lived in Paris for six months, as well as Germany and Austria. In Paris he attended life-drawing classes at the venerable Académie de la Grande Chaumière, and witnessed first hand the radical avant-garde movements that were thriving in the French capital.

Upon his return to New York in 1923, Gottlieb attended John Sloan’s painting class at the Art Students League, as well as classes at Parsons School of Design, and Cooper Union, forging friendships with Barnett Newman, Mark Rothko, John Graham, and Milton Avery, among others. From this time onward, Gottlieb became a key member of the emerging New York school of artists, along with Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline, Mark Rothko, and others, founding the artist’s group dedicated to abstract painting, ‘The Ten’ in 1935.


Gottlieb drew on mythological and tribal symbols, as well as Surrealism – which he had encountered both in Paris, and through the artists exiled in New York in the Second World War – to create works that emphatically broke with traditional American art. His Pictograph series (1941-51) presented a radical new form of artistic expression. These paintings possessed both primitivist qualities, composed of abstract symbols and signs wrought from the unconscious. In 1956, Gottlieb began what is perhaps his most renowned series, the Burst paintings, which presented his most radical simplification of form space and color.


Gottlieb was the first of his contemporaries to be collected by a major institution when, in 1945, the Guggenheim Museum purchased eleven of his works. A year later, the Museum of Modern Art also purchased a single work.


In 1968, a major retrospective of Gottlieb’s work was held simultaneously by the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. Gottlieb is the only artist in history who received this rare accolade. Today Gottlieb’s work is held in major public collections around the world, from the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art, New York, to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Tate Gallery, London, Pompidou Center, Paris, and Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin.


Adolph Gottlieb died on March 4, 1974 in New York City.