A gift to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection


Tworkov, Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Carstairs Gallery, Zoe Sharkey, 1949, figurative abstraction Venice, Italy--The Estate of Jack Tworkov is pleased to announce a gift of a major painting to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice, Italy. The painting, titled "Portrait of Z. Sharkey," is an exceptional example of Tworkov's abstract figuration which dominated the artist's oeuvre during the late 1940s. The gift was made by Hermine Ford and Helen Tworkov, daughters of Jack Tworkov, with the assistance of Jason Andrew and Otto and Kirstin Hubner of the American Contemporary Art Gallery, Munich.

Located on Venice’s Grand Canal, the Peggy Guggenheim Collection is one of Europe’s premier museums devoted to modern art. With the 18th-century palazzo that houses it, the collection was bequeathed to the foundation by Peggy Guggenheim (niece of Solomon R. Guggenheim) in 1976. The museum was inaugurated in 1980, and it presents Peggy Guggenheim’s personal collection of 20th-century art, masterpieces from the Gianni Mattioli Collection, the Nasher Sculpture Garden, as well as temporary exhibitions. With masterpieces ranging in style from Cubism and Surrealism to Abstract Expressionism, the collection has become one of the most respected and visited cultural attractions in Venice. The Foundation also owns and operates the U.S. Pavilion of the Venice Biennale.

"[Portrait of Z. Sharkey] dates from the year of the first postwar Venice Biennale which offered almost the first glimpse in Europe of the new American painting," writes Philip Ryland, Director of the Collection, "largely thanks to the collection of Peggy Guggenheim which was exhibited in the Greek Pavilion that year: William Baziotes, Arshile Gorky, Robert Motherwell, Richard Pousette-Dart, Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, and Clyfford Still. This was the group to which Tworkov belonged."

The subject in the painting gifted to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection is Zoe Sharkey. Very little is known about her. What is known is that she was a New York socialite who worked as a gallerist associated with the reputable uptown Carstairs Gallery at 11 East 57th Street. The Carstairs Gallery was established in 1934 by Caroll Carstairs who was the son of Charles S. Carstairs, former London representative of M. Knoedler & Co. In 1928, Caroll Carstairs was one of a group of four, including his father, who purchased the Knoedler business. Following the death of his father, he retired from Knoedler and established his own gallery which became one of the first galleries in New York to exhibit Claude Monet. Tworkov was likely introduced to Zoe through his sister, the painter Janice Biala. Zoe was the subject of many works by Tworkov during the late 1940s.

Jack Tworkov, Figure A, abstraction, New York School, abstract expressionism, figurative abstraction, women

Tworkov's figurative abstractions are a little known part of his oeuvre as he is primarily celebrated for his Abstract Expressionist period of the early 1950s. Only recently have the works from the late 1940s been rediscovered through exhibitions (Jack Tworkov: Women, Valerie Carberry Gallery, 2009) and through the recent appearance of such stunning examples at auction like "Still Life with Lamp" (1949) at Sotheby's (March 2014) and "Figure A" (1949) at Sotheby's (May 2014).

One reason to explain why this important period has been overlooked partly stems from the direct comparison with Willem de Kooning. Tworkov and de Kooning shared a unique comradery dating back to the early 1930s where they met while working on the WPA. Tworkov also met Mark Rothko and others that would later form the New York School of Abstract Expressionism. In October 1948 Tworkov rented studio space adjacent to that of De Kooning on the second floor of a two story cold-water flat at 85 Fourth Avenue. When one came to the top of the stairs if you went to the left one could visit de Kooning and to the right, Tworkov. An artistic exchange, especially at that time in New York, was impossible to avoid. The Club, of which Tworkov and de Kooning were founding members, fostered discussion.

Criticized for his pursuit of the figure and particularly his still lifes, Tworkov said:

From 1945-47, I really became interested in objects as a theme and I painted still lifes. I then painted landscapes to get away from a set ready body of knowledge...I would get into the middle of a clump of trees--no perspective or view-- and try to paint it. From still life to abstract painting I had an interval of landscape painting where I got on the track of true abstract painting away from the cubists or the surrealists (and their grotesque pictures). By purging abstract art of what it was supposed to be, I came to abstract art. De Kooning thought the same way, and that's why I was so close to him--almost a disciple. We hated the idea of what abstract art was supposed to be. [Charles] Egan first wanted to show my abstract pictures, but I asked him to show the still lifes and since then I was treated like a Johnny-Come-Lately and this was a painful thing. It set back my painting career for ten years. There is a game in the United States--who came first? I was eager to paint still lifes and the figure because I was associated with artists who I knew couldn't. De Kooning did the same thing, but he was not attached. Six months before his show at Egan he was painting figures. The Women were nothing new for him. (1)

De Kooning's "Women" paintings are considered iconic examples of Post-War American art.

"Tworkov's female figures can be viewed in the context of de Kooning's influence," writes Lindsay Pollock in her essay accompanying the catalogue Jack Tworkov: Women (Valerie Carberry Gallery, 2009), "but also Tworkov's own development. This period, and these female figure paintings, set the stage for Tworkov's transition into larger-format canvases in the early 1950s, when he loosened his line and painted mostly abstract compositions, relying on the figure."

"Portrait of Z.Sharkey" will be the subject of a forthcoming Tworkov exhibition at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Spring 2016. __________ (1) Irving Sandler, "Conversation with Jack Tworkov," unpublished typescript (August 11, 1957) p.1, reproduced with permission from the Research Library, The Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles, California (2000.M43).