HALE WOODRUFF (1900 - 1980) Untitled (Abstract Composition).
Oil on canvas, circa 1948-50. 762x610 mm; 30x24 inches. Signed in oil, lower right.
Provenance: gift of the artist to Robert Iglehart, fellow professor and chairman of the painting department at New York University; thence by descent to the current owner. Woodruff joined the New York University faculty in 1946. Both Woodruff and Iglehart were closely associated with the growing New York school of Abstract Expressionism at the time. In 1949, the two joined sculptor Tony Smith to turn Studio 35, a space formerly run by such artists as Robert Motherwell, Barnett Newman and Mark Rothko, into exhibition and studio space for their students.
This fascinating modernist composition is one of the earliest abstract paintings by Hale Woodruff to come to auction. While it is known to have been exhibited at one time, its title is now lost. This mid-century painting, however, reveals many common threads found in Woodruff's early 1950s paintings. Untitled has both a similar palette and composition to images within the panel Native Forms, from his famous 1950 Art of the Negro murals for the Trevorr Arnett Library at Atlanta University. This use of earthy tones is also found in the African art-inspired Totem, circa 1950-54, ex-collection Bertha Schaefer Gallery, New York, that sold at Swann Galleries on February 4, 2007. Untitled, with its sparse calligraphy, is also closely related to Vertical Landscape, 1948-49, and Carnival, 1950. Woodruff showed a succession of these abstract works in three solo exhibitions at the Bertha Schaefer Gallery in 1953, 1954 and 1958.