Suzanne Lovell Inc

Fine Art

“Irascibles” Inspiration

February 27, 2016

We were inspired by a find from December’s Art Basel Miami (see our review here), the AP of Timothy Greenfield Sanders’ photo c. 1985 at PPOW, The New Irasibles, to revisit the original, and to find inspiration from their spirit.

Back row, left to right: Willem de Kooning, Adolph Gottlieb, Ad Reinhardt, Hedda Sterne. Center row: Richard Pousette-Dart, William Baziotes, Jackson Pollock, Clyfford Still, Robert Motherwell, Bradley Walker Tomlin. Front, seated row: Theodoros Stamos, Jimmy Ernst, Barnett Newman, James C. Brooks, Mark Rothko.

Photo by Nina Leen/Time Life Pictures/Getty Images via quora

“Irascible” easily alludes to those who are hot-tempered and easily provoked. A fighting word, this was the term selected for a protest movement by eighteen abstract artists in 1950 as in response to the conservative exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, American Painting Today – 1950. This protest, in the form of a letter, an iconic group photograph and other press led to the popularization of the term Abstract Expressionist, and ordained this group as the first generation.

Initially, Betty Parsons, Samuel Kootz and Charles Egan were the only galleries willing to show this new type of abstract art, the so-called The New York School, and the work wasn’t selling. It wasn’t until the feature on Jackson Pollock in 1947, and the infamous Irascibles article in 1951, both in Life magazine, that this new movement of the avant garde took hold, with the canvas as a space for individual freedom.

It was Adolph Gottlieb who drafted the letter, with Ad Reinhardt and Barnett Newman organizing the support and signing by the rest of the artists, resulting in an “Open Letter to Roland L. Redmond” dated May 20, which appeared on the front page of The New York Times on May 22, 1950.

The photograph for Life was taken by Nina Leen on November 24, 1950. Irving Sandler, a historian of the New York School and Abstract Expressionism, wrote that the Leen photograph “has become the image whereby we envision the artists who achieved the triumph of American painting.”

Life, January 15, 1951, pages 34–35

Image via ICP’s Blog

Jackson Pollock (1912-1956), Number 28, 1950, Enamel on canvas, 68 1/8” X 105”

Ironically, this image is courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, accession number 2006.32.21

Clyfford Still (1904-1980), PH-929, 1974, Oil on canvas, 114” X 172”

Image courtesy of the Clyfford Still Museum, © the City and County of Denver.

Mark Rothko (1903-1970), Orange, Red, Yellow, 1961. Oil on canvas, 93″ X 81 1/4″

Here is the record-setting Rothko sold at Christie’s in 2012 for $86,882,500 USD Premium (estimated $35 – $45mil USD). It came from the collection of David Pincus, who purchased it in London in 1967.

Image courtesy of

Willem de Kooning (b. 1950), Excavation, 1950, oil on canvas.

From the Collection of the Art Institute of Chicago, © 2016 The Willem de Kooning Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, The New Irascibles, 1985, AP 1 of 1 at PPOW

Image courtesy of Suzanne Lovell, Inc.

Here, The New Irascibles c. 1985. Greenfield-Sanders portraits are in renown museum collections, and he is a contributing photographer at Vanity Fair. Enjoy more of his art world portraits here, and Carol Kino has gathered the rest of the portraits from the 1980s version of this project (which included artists, dealers and critics) here.

Front: Judy Glantzman, Rodney Greenblatt, Richard Hambleton. Second row: David Wojnarowitz, Futura 2000, Stephen Lack, Mike Bidlo, Joseph Nechvatal, Luis Frangella, Arch Connelly, Rhonda Zwillinger. Back row: Mark Kostabi, Craig Coleman, Greer Langton.