Detail of Joan Mitchell’s Loom II (1976).

Let the Games Begin! Jonathan Boos Presents
20th Century American Art Trivia

By Margie Fuchs

As the first year of the decade comes to a close, we’re turning back the clock with our very first art historical trivia! At Jonathan Boos, we’ve had the immense privilege of dealing in American masterworks from the past century, one of the most revolutionary periods in the history of American art. Expanding on our ongoing social media series highlighting the stories behind notable sales from the 20th century, we’re challenging our readers to name the artists behind select artworks from each decade of the past 100 years.

While each artwork is accompanied by a short description about the work, artist and how their practice fits into the greater evolution of modern art, we’ve upped the ante by sharing only a detailed portion of each artwork. Study the image along with the text and share who you think created each work in the boxes below. In early 2021, we’ll name our trivia winners and exclusive prizes, including tickets to an upcoming art fair and a past exhibition catalogue.* Best of luck!

*Editor’s note: Thank you to everyone who’s participated thus far! We’ve reached out to winners who’ve correctly identified 7/7 of the artists whose works are featured below so that they can receive their well-earned prizes. While prizes have been awarded, we still encourage you to flex your trivia muscles and try your hand at the below! 

The 1920s

The roaring 1920s saw the blossoming of Paris’s expatriate society. Drawn to the city’s progressive social mores and its celebration of creative expression, countless American writers and artists flocked to the shores of the Seine, determined to soak up the city’s never-ending sights, sounds and inspirations. “I am particularly interested in the streets,” the artist behind this 1929 work wrote during a visit to the city. They were especially fascinated by the Place des Vosges, the oldest planned square in Paris boasting esteemed past residents ranging from author Victor Hugo to Cardinal Richelieu. In the present work, our mystery artist turned their eye to the area’s 20th century arcades and cafés, capturing these elements in a distinctly modern style.

To create this ambitious work, the artist sketched the façade of a café during one visit, taking notes on the signage and colors, before making a larger ink drawing from the sketch the following year. This larger drawing, which built on the aspects of the scene that the artist deemed essential, became the basis for the present work. The artist’s construction of space out of colored planes – such as the pink alleyway on the left and the brown café on the right – and flattened perspective became hallmarks of their later color-space compositions.

The 1930s

This image was painted by one of the most influential figures in American modernism in the mid-1930s. The work explores one of the core subjects of the artist’s career, flowers, which they depicted in over 200 paintings across three decades. Scholarship shows that this artist first painted the natural world as early as their high school years, but over time these displays of flora consumed their canvases. One final hint: of this artist’s signature subject, TIME Magazine once wrote “when [the artist] paints flowers, [they do] not paint fifty flowers stuffed into a dish. On most of [their] canvases there appeared one gigantic bloom, its huge feathery petals furled into some astonishing pattern of color and shade and line.”

The 1940s

The Great Migration saw the exodus of approximately six million African Americans from the rural South to the North, Midwest and along the West coast beginning in the early 20th century. Fueled by shifting work prospects, racial prejudice and the quest for a better life, this national upheaval went on to impact nearly every aspect of modern American society. Funded by the Works Progress Administration, the artist of the present work embarked on a monumental series in 1941 depicting this journey across 60 panels, connected with a unifying visual and accompanying written narrative.

Following the success of this migration series, which was executed when the artist was only 23 years old, Fortune magazine commissioned them to reverse course and create several works depicting African Americans in the southern Black Belt. This detail image is from one of these ten Fortune paintings. It features the red earth of a sharecroppers’ plot in Georgia, as depicted through abstracted, geometric planes of color. The dynamism of this work is emblematic of the artist’s signature technique.

The 1950s

Does this pitchfork remind you of Grant Wood’s iconic painting American Gothic (1930)? That’s intentional – this mystery artist borrowed the pitchfork motif from the Midwestern Regionalist, most likely after seeing the work at the Art Institute of Chicago. A native Chicagoan, the artist of this work would often skip class to wander the Art Institute’s storied halls as a teenager, envisioning becoming an artist one day. They went on to study at the museum’s school and later recalled looking to the Institute’s collection for inspiration.

From the elements in this artwork detail, we can determine that the owner of the pitchfork is an African American woman. Like the 1940s unidentified artist, the artist behind this work chronicled the history, hopes and struggles of African Americans from the founding of the United States through contemporary times. Their boldly articulated, rounded lines helped create “images of dignity” of African Americans at a time when the Civil Rights movement was just emerging.

The 1960s

This artist’s breakthrough soak-stain painting technique involved diluting paint and pouring the thinned pigment onto an unprimed canvas stretched across the floor. This process, which allowed the surface to absorb paint much like watercolor on paper, involved an underlying element of chance as variations in saturation and permeability of the canvas created effects that couldn’t entirely be controlled. The detail here is a quintessential example of this innovative technique, which helped bridge the gap between the Abstract Expressionism of the 1950s and Color Field painting.

The 1970s

Even though much of this artist’s career took place in France, they were a principal figure in the development of American Abstract Expressionism. Their visual vocabulary was rooted in gestural abstraction, with expressive splashes of color deployed across raw, oversized canvases. Nodding to the dynamism of their process and paint application, the artist once defined a painting as “an organism that turns in space.” While at first glance this piece may seem entirely abstract, it was inspired by hues of the French countryside. Beginning in the 1960s, the artist shifted away from the dramatic, emotive paintings of the past decade to instead consider the landscape of their adopted home as a source of inspiration. This lyrical painting presents an abstract vision of Vétheuil, a small town northwest of Paris near Impressionist master Claude Monet’s home, with intermingling dashes of blue sky and green grass.

The 1980s

We’re not revealing anything when we share that this painted aluminum sculpture’s name is Untitled. Its creator abjured classical ideals of figurative sculpture (as well as inherited European artistic values more broadly), instead seeking autonomy and clarity in sculptural objects. Today, they are considered one of the leading figures of Minimalism, although they strictly disavowed the term. Regardless, their radical approach to both artmaking and art theory shook the global art world, often through free-standing ‘specific objects’ that used repeated forms to explore the use of space. In New York City? Perhaps you’ve seen the Museum of Modern Art’s acclaimed retrospective on the artist.

Put your art historical knowledge to the test: 

Congratulations for weaving your way through selections of 20th century American art! Be sure to submit your guesses for the artists behind each of the above works.