“Sleeping Goddess,” 1983, by Norman Bluhm

By: Goulven Le Morvan

Lot 14 – Norman Bluhm (1921-1999), American. SLEEPING GODDESS, 1983, acrylic on canvas, triptych; each panel signed and dated “’83” verso. 40 x 90 in — 101.6 x 228.6 cm. Estimate $25,000-$35,000

Norman Bluhm became part of the Abstract Expressionist scene in the 1950s, along with Franz Kline, Robert Motherwell, Ad Reinhardt, Willem de Kooning, and others. The group would gather at the Cedar Bar as well as at a third-floor loft at 39 East 8th Street, which would be referred to as “The Club.” This would become the hub for New York artists to gather, discuss ideas, and socialise.

Even though he was part of the second generation of Abstract Expressionists – an attribution he abhorred all his life – Bluhm was not worshipful of Post-War Expressionism: “Come on, let’s be real about it. I’m not knocking it, but what I’m doing is, I’m trying to say that in the break out of a kind of cultural force, the abstract period, we have to admit that things existed and things that can move on. Like I had a die hard argument with somebody. I said, you can’t be an abstract painter any more, per se the fifties. It’s gone. You don’t live in that period. […] We don’t live in that period, we don’t have that energy. We don’t have that anger. We’re not in that time. I mean, art has moved on.”[1]

Bluhm studied Bauhaus architecture under Mies van der Rohe until 1941 at the Armour Institute of Technology, but the loss of his brother in World War II prompted Bluhm to become an artist. Thanks to the GI Bill, he was able to travel to Paris in 1956 and study at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts and the Académie de la Grande Chaumière. There he met other American abstractionists such as Joan Mitchell and Sam Francis, and French avant-garde artists including Alberto Giacometti, Jean Cocteau and Antonin Artaud. Influenced by the work of Cezanne, which he encountered in Paris, Bluhm gravitated toward the Abstract movement in Paris, before settling in New York in 1958.

His first exhibition was held at the Leo Castelli Gallery in 1959. Well versed in art history,[2] Bluhm integrated this knowledge into his art, using it to explore new frontiers in action painting. In 1960, a collaboration with Frank O’Hara and the resulting Poem-Paintings pushed the boundaries of Abstract Expressionism once more. This work is a suite of 26 black-and-white works on paper combined with “fragmentary poetry replete with exclamations and gestural bursts of paint that drip down the pages and bleed into the words.” [3]

Always in pursuit of the new, Bluhm began re-incorporating the figure into his compositions during the 1970s. He delved into a new narrative of eroticism with the female form expressed in warmer tones, an evolution past pure action painting. These female forms of goddesses Artemis, Aphrodite and Persephone appeared in his art starting in the early 1970s, as in the paintings at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Erythea (1971) and Thamyris (1972). The triptych format adopted during the same period is used in the composition The Sleeping Goddess, painted in 1983. Totalling 90 inches, these three panels of 30 inches each allowed the artist to paint a larger scene with gestural brushstrokes and vibrant warm tones suggesting the image of a woman asleep. John Yau, the author of the catalogue raisonné on Bluhm, said of the paintings of this period: “It’s as if the clouds and goddesses of Tiepolo, Rubens, and Watteau have been transformed into highly charged, voluptuous, lushly billowing masses.” [4]

This work will be included in the forthcoming publication Norman Bluhm: Catalogue Raisonné of Paintings, edited by John Yau.

About the auction

Held online from May 24-29, 2024, our spring auction of Canadian and International Fine Art brings together exceptional work from around the world. This auction features celebrated Canadian artists such as Cornelius Krieghoff, A.Y. Jackson, P.C. Sheppard, A.J. Casson, Bertram Booker, Alexandra Luke, Jean Paul Lemieux and Yves Gaucher as well as important First Nations artists Norval Morrisseau, Roy Thomas and Alex Janvier. International highlights include work by Jules Olitski, Karel Appel, Kwon Young-Woo, Norman Bluhm, Józef Bakoś, Léon Lhermitte and Montague Dawson.

Previews will be available at our Toronto gallery, located at 275 King Street East, Second Floor, Toronto:

 Thursday, May 23 from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm
 Friday, May 24 from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm
 Saturday, May 25 from 12:00 pm to 4:00 pm
 Sunday, May 26 from 12:00 pm to 4:00 pm
 Monday, May 27 from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm
 Tuesday, May 28 from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm

Or by appointment.

Please contact us to find out more.

[1] https://huntercollegeart.org/artists-research-group/norman-bluhm/
[2] “Everything we got came from either France, from Italy, wherever it came from. By the time it got to us, it had been so sponged down, it had very little significance, any significance at all.” In. Ibid.
[3] https://greyartmuseum.nyu.edu/2020/05/collection-spotlight-norman-bluhm-and-frank-oharas-poem-paintings/
[4] https://www.artandantiquesmag.com/norman-bluhm/

Related News

Start Collecting

Everything you need to know to get you started bidding in our auctions at Waddington’s.

Learn More

How to Sell

Find out why selecting Waddington’s is the right choice for consigning your works of art, wine or specialty items.

Learn More

Become a Member

Sign up for your Waddington’s account to start bidding, manage your invoices, and track items you're interested in.

Sign Up