Barnett Newman

The Promise
1949

Not on view

The Promise was one of Newman’s earliest “zip” paintings. Begun in 1949, these works were radically abstract, with subtly inflected monochromatic backgrounds partitioned by narrow vertical bands—or zips, as the artist called them—of contrasting colors. To make The Promise, Newman laid down two strips of masking tape to demarcate the zips, and painted the ground black. He then removed the tape and painted the blue-gray stripe at the right with a palette knife, producing a textured and irregular effect. When the black paint was dry, he filled in the stripe at the left, taping off the edges to create a precisely defined zip in off-white. The juxtaposition of the two zips causes visual tension, activating the surface of the canvas. Newman believed strongly in the power of abstraction to communicate the most dramatic and elemental aspects of human existence—the sense of alienation and vulnerability that followed in the wake of World War II, as well as an abiding faith in creation and new beginnings, as suggested by the title and composition of The Promise.

Artist
Barnett Newman

Title
The Promise

Date
1949

Classification
Paintings

Medium
Oil on canvas

Dimensions
Overall: 51 1/2 × 68 1/8 in. (130.8 × 173 cm)

Accession number
2000.338

Credit line
Gift of Adriana and Robert Mnuchin

Rights and reproductions information
© artist or artist’s estate



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