Jackson Pollock

Naked Man with Knife


Not on display

Jackson Pollock 1912–1956
Oil paint on canvas
Frame: 1347 × 990 × 65 mm
support: 1270 × 914 m
weight: 49kg
Presented by Frank Lloyd 1981

Display caption

Pollock was beginning to find his own individual style when he made this work. The startlingly violent image of three interlocking figures was derived from a lost work by the Mexican painter José Clemente Orozco showing the fraternal struggle between Cain and Abel. Pollock’s exploration of the theme may reflect his interest in the archetypal myths explored in Jungian psychoanalysis. The subject may also refer to the Spanish Civil War and the Second World War, which engulfed Europe as America looked on with horror.

Gallery label, December 2005

Does this text contain inaccurate information or language that you feel we should improve or change? We would like to hear from you.

Catalogue entry

T03327 NAKED MAN WITH KNIFE c.1938–41

Not inscribed
Oil on canvas, 50 × 36 (126.9 × 91.4)
Presented by Frank Lloyd 1981
Prov: Marvin Jay Pollock (gift of the artist to his brother; later returned); Stella May McClure Pollock (gift of the artist to his mother); Sanford McCoy; Mrs Sanford McCoy, Deep River, Conn.; Marlborough Gallery Inc., New York; Frank Lloyd
Exh: Jackson Pollock: New-Found Works, Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, October–November 1978, National Collection of Fine Arts, Washington, D.C., December 1978–February 1979, The David and Alfred Smart Gallery, University of Chicago, March–May 1979 (31, repr.); Jackson Pollock, Centre Georges Pompidou, Musée National d'Art Moderne, Paris, January–April 1982 (works not numbered, repr.in colour)
Lit: Francis V. O'Connor, ‘The Genesis of Jackson Pollock: 1912 to 1943’, Artforum, V, May 1967, p.23, repr.p.20; Francis Valentine O'Connor and Eugene Victor Thaw, Jackson Pollock: A Catalogue Raisonné of Paintings, Drawings and Other Works, New Haven and London 1978, vol.I, no.60, p.46, repr.p.47 as ‘[Naked Man with Knife]’
Repr: Sam Hunter, American Art of the 20th Century, New York 1972, pl. 247; Elizabeth Frank, Jackson Pollock, New York 1983, pl.18 in colour; The Tate Gallery: Illustrated Biennial Report 1980–82, 1983, p.44 in colour

This picture, which was never exhibited or titled in Pollock's lifetime, has been given the title ‘Naked Man with Knife’ by the compilers of the catalogue raisonné (O'Connor and Thaw) who assign it to the period c.1938–41. Its composition appears to show three naked male figures: the man on the right is attempting to strike the others with a knife and is being fought off by the man in the centre, while the third man on the left is crouching in terror, with his arms raised in protection. The forms are closely packed and interlocking, with violent, angular clashes of movement, and dramatic contrasts of light and shade.

In his article in Artforum, O'Connor stresses the influence of Orozco on Pollock's work at this period and suggests that this picture (as well as showing Orozco's stylistic influence) utilizes figure motifs borrowed from Orozco's frescoes at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, painted in 1932–4. The similarity seems to be mainly between the two left-hand figures and several of the figures on the left of Orozco's panel ‘The Departure of Quetzalcoatl’, though the resemblance is not close enough to be conclusive. The fact that there is little or no sign of the influence of Picasso and Miró, whose influence began to displace Orozco's from 1940–41 onwards, would suggest that its date can probably be narrowed down to the period 1938–40.

Whereas Orozco's paintings have dramatic subjects based on historical or mythological events, the drama in this picture by Pollock seems to be purely subjective in origin.

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


You might like