Adolph Gottlieb

The Alchemist


Not on display

Adolph Gottlieb 1903–1974
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 711 × 908 mm
frame: 742 × 943 × 56 mm
Purchased 1980

Display caption

The Alchemist belongs to an extensive series of paintings known as the Pictographs that Gottlieb made in the 1940s and 1950s, drawing upon his dual interests in Surrealism and geometric abstraction. An array of images derived from the unconscious are superimposed onto a flat, abstract space, freely divided into a grid. While his work is influenced by abstraction, 'primitivism' and myth, Gottlieb wanted to avoid culturally specific symbols. The symbols were presented in random order, so as not to predetermine or limit the response of the viewer.

Gallery label, May 2010

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Catalogue entry


Inscribed ‘ADOLPH GOTTLIEB’ top left
Oil on canvas, 28 × 35 5/16 (71 × 91)
Purchased from the Adolph and Esther Gottlieb Foundation through the André Emmerich Gallery (Grant-in-Aid) 1980
Exh:  Adolph Gottlieb, Gallery 67, New York, March 1945 (11); Fifth Anniversary Exhibition of Paintings and Sculpture by Members of the Federation of Modern Painters and Sculptors, Wildenstein Gallery, New York, September 1945 (19); Adolph Gottlieb: Pictographs 1941–53, André Emmerich Gallery, New York, March–April 1979 (5, colour)

Sandford Hirsch writes (letter of 15 September 1982) that the imagery, sources and titles of Gottlieb's Pictograph paintings such as this and ‘Labyrinth No.2’ ‘have been the subject of some debate and speculation from the time the Pictograph series began in 1941, and continuing to the present. My own opinion, which agrees with Gottlieb's, is that the imagery is intentionally allusive and open ended. It was Gottlieb's aim to present these mysterious and incomplete images in random order, to initiate a series of responses on the part of the viewer. Gottlieb did not want to predict nor limit the responses; my own experience has been that these paintings elicit a kind of reaction that changes and expands over a period of time. Gottlieb's later work was also geared toward this same type of active response on the part of the viewer.’ (Mr Hirsch is Administrator/ Curator of the Adolph and Esther Gottlieb Foundation).

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1980-82: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1984


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