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Estimate: $ 3,000 - $ 5,000
LESTER JOHNSON (1919-2010)
Bittersweet. Oil on canvas. 440x510 mm; 17 1/4x20 1/8 inches. Signed and dated in oil, verso. 1955.
Provenance: Gifted from the artist, New York, to Virginia Zabriskie.
Exhibited: "American Paintings 1945-1957," Minneapolis Institute of Art, June 18-September 1, 1957.
Johnson came to New York in 1947 after studying at the Minneapolis School of Art and the St. Paul Art School. He was befriended by his neighbors Wolf Kahn (1927-2020, see lot 225) and Larry Rivers (1923-2002) during the 1950s before moving to Columbus as an Artist-in-Residence at Ohio State University from 1961-62. He followed this post with a residence at the University of Wisconsin and a supplementary academic career at Yale University.
Lester Johnson was one of some young New York School artists who summered in Springs, East Hampton in the 1950s and 60s. He would return to Springs throughout his career and counted Saul Steinberg and Willem and Elaine de Kooning as neighbors.
Though Johnson's work was characterized as Abstract Expressionism, he departed from this already loosely defined canon by including figures. His physically vigorous technique of action painting created portraits with a breadth of tangible presences-from exuberant joy to isolated stoicism to existential despair. In the 1970s Johnson moved to portraying colorful narrative crowded street scenes.
Like Pat Adams (born 1928, see lot 274) and Clinton Hill (1922-2003, see lot 226 and lot 227), Johnson was represented by Korman Galleries before the roster was inherited by Virginia Zabriskie. His work would be shown by Zabriskie in New York and Paris several times from 1954 to 1985.
According to a note in the Zabriskie Gallery archives, Johnson painted this still life from a bittersweet plant given to him by Virginia Zabriskie on the birth of his daughter, Leslie Marie. This is one of two versions of the bittersweet still life made by Johnson at the time and owned by Zabriskie; she gifted the other to Leslie Marie on her sixteenth birthday.