Barnett Newman: Chronology


Barnett Newman is born on 29th January on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, the eldest of four children. His parents, Abraham and Anna, Jewish immigrants from Russian Poland, had arrived in New York in 1900.


His father’s clothing manufacturing company thrives, and the family move to a middle-class neighbourhood of the Bronx. The children attend Hebrew classes, and receive special tuition from Jewish scholars. 


Commutes to high school in Manhattan. He adopts the middle name Benedict, after his Hebrew name Baruch.


Begins drawing classes at the Art Students League, where he befriends young artist Adolph Gottlieb.


Attends City College of New York, majoring in philosophy. 


Enters his father’s business to build up savings to support himself as an artist. After the 1929 crash, he stays on to try to keep the company solvent.


As the family business founders, Newman becomes a substitute art teacher, earning $7.50 a day. 


Offers himself as a last-minute candidate for election as New York City mayor, advocating a civic art programme with the manifesto ‘On the Need for Political Action by Men of Culture’. During the 1930s he counts himself a committed anarchist.


Publishes The Answer - America’s Civil Service Magazine, which closes after the first issue. Marries Annalee Greenhouse, a shorthand writing teacher.


Abraham Newman suffers a heart attack. The family business is liquidated.


After failing the exam to become a fully-qualified art teacher, Newman organises Can We Draw? The Board of Examiners Says-No!, an exhibition of work by himself and others rejected by the board.


Gives up substitute teaching for a part-time job teaching silk-screen printing and batik to adults. He spends his spare time at the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens and the American Museum of Natural History. 


Barnett and Annalee spend the summer taking botany and ornithology classes at Cornell University.


During the Second World War, Newman is disqualified from military service on physical grounds. He applies to be classified as a conscientious objector.


Meets Betty Parsons, who runs a small gallery in the Wakefield Bookshop at 64 East 55th Street, New York. They develop a close working relationship.

Newman leads a protest against the conservative jury for an exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. With friends Adolph Gottlieb, Mark Rothko and Milton Avery, he mounts a counter-exhibition.


Organises the exhibition Pre-Columbian Stone Sculpture at the Wakefield Gallery. He also completes a number of drawings and watercolours, his earliest surviving works. 


Paints his first known work on canvas. During the next few years, he continues to draw and paint, but also writes art criticism.


Betty Parsons opens her own gallery in New York, and Newman organises the first exhibition, Northwest Coast Indian Painting. He joins the gallery’s roster of artists alongside his friends Mark Rothko and Clyfford Still. The following year, Jackson Pollock also joins.


Organises The Ideographic Picture at the Betty Parsons Gallery, including work by Rothko, Still and himself. He stops teaching. For the next seventeen years, Annalee supports her husband on her teacher’s salary. The first Newman painting to be sold is Euclidian Abyss (1946-47).


Paints Onement I, which he views as a major breakthrough. He publishes the essay ‘The Sublime is Now’, arguing for a new type of art, free from the weight of European tradition.


Makes seventeen paintings, the most he will ever complete in a single year.


His first solo exhibition at the Betty Parsons Gallery receives a largely negative response. One painting is sold.


His second exhibition at the Betty Parsons Gallery is condemned by critics. No paintings are sold. His work wouldn’t be shown again for four and a half years.


At fifty, Newman has sold only a few paintings. Although Annalee holds two teaching jobs, their financial situation is precarious. They take loans, and pawn some valuables. Newman makes one very large painting, Uriel, then stops painting for over two years. 


Suffers a heart attack and is hospitalised for six weeks.

Slowly recuperating, Newman completes three paintings. His work appears in The New American Painting, organised by the Museum of Modern Art, New York, which travels across Europe. Barnett Newman: First Retrospective Exhibition opens at Bennington College in Vermont, with a catalogue essay by Clement Greenberg.


A number of major museums purchase his paintings. The exhibition Barnett Newman: A Selection 1946-1952 receives largely negative reviews, but attracts the interest of the younger generation of New York artists.


Formulates a series of paintings that will become The Stations of the Cross. 


Newman-De Kooning, an exhibition of ‘two founding fathers’, opens at the Allan Stone Gallery in New York. 


Contributes to the exhibition Recent American Synagogue Architecture at the Jewish Museum in New York. 


The Newmans travel to Europe for the first time, visiting England, Switzerland, Germany, and France. Annalee retires from teaching. 


Newman and six younger artists, including Donald Judd and Frank Stella, represent the US at the São Paulo Bienal. After the opening, the Newmans spend a month in Brazil.


The Stations of the Cross opens at the Guggenheim Museum, New York. It is Newman’s first solo museum exhibition and, although the critical reception is mixed, earns him wide recognition.


Versions of his monumental steel sculpture Broken Obelisk are installed in front of the Seagram Building in New York, and in Washington, D.C.


Completes his largest painting, Anna’s Light, named in honour of his mother, who died in 1965. He also makes the sculpture Lace Curtain for Mayor Daley in protest against police brutality towards anti-Vietnam War demonstrators.


His first one-man gallery show in ten years opens in New York. The show is widely covered and generally praised.


Newman dies of a heart attack in New York, on 4th July, aged 65.