Philip Guston, ‘Untitled’, 1960, SFMOMA Modern Ball Auction 2014

Estimated value: $100,000-150,000. Philip Guston’s creative daring over the course of his five-decade-long career helped secure his place as one of the most celebrated American artists of the twentieth century. This 1960 drawing captures a key moment of stylistic metamorphosis, reflecting the spontaneous, gestural abstraction for which Guston was so well known at the time, while anticipating the quivering figurative elements of his later figurative paintings.

Among the most celebrated American artists of the twentieth century, Philip Guston (1913–1980) continually challenged himself and his audiences by undertaking a series of stylistic evolutions over the course of his five-decade-long career. Guston’s artistic shifts often bucked popular trends, but each underscored his creative daring and ultimately helped secure his place in the modern pantheon.

In the 1950s and 1960s Guston was immersed in Abstract Expressionism, having moved away from figuration toward spontaneous, gestural marks. His 1960 drawing Untitled reflects the abstraction for which he was so well known at the time, but it also hints at the return to figuration to come, with discernible suggestions of the quivering geometric shapes that would occupy many of his later paintings.

Guston enjoyed a long and lasting relationship with SFMOMA. In addition to presenting two comprehensive retrospectives, in 1979 and 2003, the museum has collected his work in depth and has included Guston regularly in exhibitions drawn from its permanent collection. His work also is represented in the collections of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Tate, Museum of Modern Art, Walker Art Center, and Whitney Museum of American Art.

Image rights: Courtesy Musa and Tom Mayer; McKee Gallery, New York. © Philip Guston

About Philip Guston

Best known for his cartoonish paintings and drawings from the late 1960s onwards, Philip Guston audaciously returned to figuration at the height of Abstract Expressionism. Guston created a lively cast of characters rendered in bold brushwork—sinister, hooded figures reminiscent of the Ku Klux Klan; cyclopean heads; and disembodied limbs. Seemingly mundane objects, such as bare light bulbs, shoes, cigarettes, and bricks were also imbued with personal meaning. A muralist with the government-funded Federal Art Project in the 1930s, an Abstract Expressionist in the 1950s and ‘60s, and a figurative painter in the last decades of his life, Guston is regarded as a leading figure in the creation of a new style of painting known as Neo-Expressionism.

American, 1913-1980, Montreal, Canada, based in New York, New York