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Flight of Man

About 1939
Jackson Pollock (American, 1912–1956)


Object Place: New York, New York

Dimensions

Overall: 30.5 x 13.3 cm (12 x 5 1/4 in.)

Accession Number

2008.181

Medium or Technique

Enamel on Limoges porcelain bowl

On View

Saundra B. and William H. Lane Galleries (Gallery 328)

Collections

Americas

Classifications

Porcelain

Footed bowl, decorated on the interior with painted figures, and on the exterior with rhythmic curves and abstract figures. Colors are predominantly red, yellow, and blue.


This rare ceramic bowl painted by Jackson Pollock is one of about ten known examples surviving from a turbulent stage in the artist’s life. Pollock was suffering intensely from depression and alcoholism in the late 1930s, and found it difficult to work. Rita Benton, wife of Pollock’s mentor, the painter Thomas Hart Benton, suggested ceramic-painting to Pollock as a therapeutic method to help him focus on his art. In 1938 Pollock, hospitalized for alcoholism, began a course of Jungian psychoanalysis; painting and drawing were incorporated into his treatment and Jungian archetypes began to appear in his work. Carl Jung had described these archetypes as archaic figures that collectively derive from the unconscious mind.

Pollock painted this bowl’s interior with a dark scene of abstracted human figures that seem to strive and grasp at unknown forms. One, at the center of the bowl, is surrounded by a halo of light and seems to be in flight. While derived from Pollock’s unconscious, the intense colors and intertwined figures also reflect Pollock’s response to the expressionist paintings of Mexican muralists David Alfaro Siqueiros and José Clemente Orozco, whom he knew and admired. Orozco frequently employed images of figures in flames, forms that may be reflected in Pollock’s central figure who leaps into a brilliantly lit abyss. The figures in rapture also suggest Pollock’s interest in El Greco’s scenes of the resurrection of Christ, which appeared in his sketchbooks of the period.

Pollock presented this bowl as a gift to one of his analysts, Dr. James H. Wall, who later explained that the title “Flight of Man” was his interpretation of how Pollock had described the meaning of the work. The MFA owns a related work from this period, a psychoanalytic drawing that shares with this bowl the red, blue, and yellow color palette and the motif of entwined human figures (2003.807).

Markings

Limoges mark on underside of base.

Provenance

Gift of the artist to Dr. James Hardin Wall (b. 1902 - d. 1997), White Plains, NY [see note 1]. By 1978, private collection, Massachusetts. 1984, sold by Solomon and Co. Fine Art, New York, to Nika Yourievitch, Lady Hulton (b. 1916 – d. 1995), London and Switzerland; by inheritance to her nephew; 2006, consigned by him to Dickinson Roundell, Inc., London and New York; 2007, sold by Dickinson Roundell to Mel and Hope Barkan, Boston; 2008, gift of Mel and Hope Barkan to the MFA. (Accession Date: June 25, 2008)

NOTES:
[1] According to Jackson Pollock: A Catalogue Raisonné of Paintings, Drawings, and Other Works, ed. Valentine O’Connor and Eugene Victor Thaw, vol. 4: Other Works, 1930-1956 (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1978), p. 8, cat. no. 924. At this time the bowl was in a Massachusetts private collection.

Credit Line

Gift of Mel and Hope Barkan