Oil on cotton canvas, circa 1951-52. 1295x635 mm; 51x25 inches.
Provenance: acquired directly from the artist, private collection, New York; thence by descent, private collection, North Carolina.
This modernist painting is a striking example of Norman Lewis abstraction of the early 1950s in which birds are the subject. This period of abstraction can be seen as a reflection of Lewis's urban surroundings - echoing shapes and patterns seen in washing lines, tenement windows, storm clouds and birds flying over head. Here Lewis displays his distinctive dry brush technique with oil paint, similarly used on both canvas and paper to blur lines and suggest movement.
One of the earliest examples of the subject is his Birds, 1950, a more painterly and expressionist precursor to the subject with swirling brushtrokes of color. That year, with his friend Ad Reinhardt, Lewis participated in the Artists' Sessions at Studio 35, three days of round-table discussions, moderated by Robert Motherwell, sculptor Richard Lippold and MoMA curator Alfred H. Barr, to define the relevant issues for Abstract Expressionism. Lewis was the only African-American artist to participate. In the early 1950s, in addition to several solo exhibitions at the Willard Gallery, Lewis finally achieved some public recognition for his contributions to abstraction. He was first included in the 1951 Abstract Painting and Sculpture in America exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. In 1952, Lewis also achieved critical acclaim with positive reviews in the New York Herald-Tribune and Art News magazine. He returned to an avian subject again in 1953 with his Migrating Birds, which later won the Popularity Prize at the prestigious Pittsburgh International Exhibition of Contemporary Painting at the Carnegie Institute in 1955. Fine, pl. 31, p 66.