About us
Philip Guston Photo

Philip Guston

American Painter

Movement: Abstract Expressionism

Born: June 27, 1913 - Montreal, Canada

Died: June 7, 1980 - Woodstock, New York

Philip Guston Timeline

Important Art by Philip Guston

The below artworks are the most important by Philip Guston - that both overview the major creative periods, and highlight the greatest achievements by the artist.

Gladiators (1938)
Artwork Images

Gladiators (1938)

Artwork description & Analysis: Gladiators is an early example of Guston's social realist style, which he would maintain throughout his work as muralist with the WPA. It represents an attempt to capture something of the monumentality that he admired in Italian Renaissance art, though it is also one of the first pictures in which he explores the imagery of hooded figures, fists and shields, which would reappear in his late work.

Oil and pencil on canvas 24 1/2 in. x 28 1/8 in. - Museum of Modern Art; gift of Edward R. Broida

Zone (1953-54)
Artwork Images

Zone (1953-54)

Artwork description & Analysis: Zone, a painting that reflects the focused concentration of Guston's mature work, suggests a warm calm, with its mist of red hatch-marks filling the painting's center. Here, Guston hones his mark-making, and builds layers of paint out of quick, small stokes that are quite distinct from the wilder gestures of some of his colleagues. "Look at any inspired painting," he once said, "it's like a gong sounding; it puts you in a state of reverberation."

Oil on canvas 46 in.x48 in. - The Edward R. Broida Trust, Los Angeles

Last Piece (1958)
Artwork Images

Last Piece (1958)

Artwork description & Analysis: Last Piece is not Guston's last Abstract Expressionist painting, but it represents a transition away from the shimmering forms of the early 1950s towards the recognizable motifs of his later, more figurative works. If Buddhism, and concepts of nothingness, had informed his earlier abstractions, this represents a move away from those inspirations.

Goauche on board 22 in.x30 in. - Museum of Modern Art; Estate of Philip Guston

The Studio (1969)
Artwork Images

The Studio (1969)

Artwork description & Analysis: The Studio marks the beginning of Philip Guston's move away from abstraction and back to the figuration he practiced during the 1930s and 1940s, while he worked in the WPA mural painting style. This painting is widely recognized as an early meta-self portrait, in which Guston presents himself, laboring at his easel in the hood that he will continue to employ as a motif in future Klansmen works. Puffing on a cigar through his hood, the painter keeps his hand free to create his masterpiece: a cartoonish self-portrait of his hooded persona. Clement Greenberg once remarked that, with the exception of Arshile Gorky, Guston was the most romantic artist of his generation.

Oil on canvas 48 in. x 62 in. - Musa Guston

City Limits (1969)
Artwork Images

City Limits (1969)

Artwork description & Analysis: In City Limits, Guston's hooded characters squeeze into a car, like clowns, as if to go cause trouble in town. His Klansmen often undertook myriad tasks in his paintings, but more than most, this image reflects an aspect of Guston's original motivation for switching back towards realism: a growing fear at the spread of political disorder and upheaval in America.

Oil on canvas 6.5' x 8'7 1/4". - Museum of Modern Art; Estate of Philip Guston

Head and Bottle (1975)
Artwork Images

Head and Bottle (1975)

Artwork description & Analysis: Head and Bottle exemplifies Guston's move away from painting the hooded Klansmen in the late 1960s. He invented this lima-bean shaped Cyclops head, with no body and one giant eye, to represent the all-seeing artist. In this work, the eye scrutinizes a green bottle, studying it as if about to pick up the nearby paintbrush to render it in red paint. The year after he painted this, Guston was hospitalized with exhaustion.

Oil on canvas 48 in. x 62 in. - Musa Guston

Untitled (1980)
Artwork Images

Untitled (1980)

Artwork description & Analysis: Towards the end of his life, Guston not only expanded his palette once again, to include blues and yellows, but he once again incorporated abstraction into many of his works.

Synthetic polymer paint on paper mounted on board 20 in. x 30 in. - Museum of Modern Art; Estate of Philip Guston



By submitting the above you agree to The Art Story privacy policy.

Philip Guston Photo

Related Art and Artists

Adam and Eve (1917)
Artwork Images

Adam and Eve (1917)

Artist: Max Beckmann

Artwork description & Analysis: One of the first paintings completed after his military service during World War I, Adam and Eve bears little resemblance to his prewar landscapes or large-scale narratives. The canvas is mostly devoid of color; instead, it is dominated by a variety of grays that lend the work a general tone of melancholy and create a shallow spatial dimension. The muddy tones similarly demonstrate Beckmann's shift towards moralizing images, in which every element, even the color of the paint, bears deeper meaning. The bright pop of the yellow lily and the serpent's red eye contrast sharply with the drab palette Beckmann used to portray the flat landscape and gaunt figures, drawing the viewer's eye to them immediately. These archetypes convey Beckmann's appreciation for symbolism and allegory; here, he uses the lily to allude to purity and redemption, while the fiery red of the serpent's eye emphasizes the mercurial nature of the devil. The two symbols succinctly narrate the aftermath of the fall of man, cycling through original sin to the promise of salvation.

Aside from the tonally symbolic schema of the painting, the jagged outlines, flat planes of color, and shallow space are the result of Beckmann's synthesis of a variety of sources. The brutal, twisted figures are indebted to medieval German artists like Matthias Grunewald and Hans Baldung Grien, who used similar depictions to represent pain and suffering. The appropriation of medieval styles and subject matter illustrates the Neue Sachlichkeit's drive to reinvigorate German tradition within the context of modernity. In contrast with the medieval influence, the organization of space on the canvas is clearly influenced by the compressed compositions of the Cubists, while the critical tone of the representation is tied to the social commentary of the Expressionists. Beckmann's incorporation of these varied movements resulted in the definition of a personal style and initiated the most successful period of his career. The resulting painting can be read as an allegory warning against the temptation of a reprise of the violence, cruelty, and destruction that plagued Germany during World War I. The dark outlines, disproportionate figures, and shallow space all serve to heighten this effect and later became hallmarks of Beckmann's mature style.

Oil on canvas - Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Nationalgalerie

The Disquieting Muses (1916)
Artwork Images

The Disquieting Muses (1916)

Artist: Giorgio De Chirico

Artwork description & Analysis: The muses are another recurring motif in de Chirico's paintings. He believed they inspired the artist to see beyond mere appearances and look into the metaphysical - the realm of memory, mythology and truth. This was originally painted while he was living in Ferrara, around 1917; the city's Castello Estense can be seen in the background. It would later become an inspiration for a Sylvia Plath poem of the same name. Once again, de Chirico disregards the true scale of architecture, and seems to represent it almost as a miniature model in which he can place the symbolic objects of an uncanny still life. At least 18 copies of this painting exist, which were backdated by the artist to suggest that he had painted them in the late 1910s, just like this picture. The practice of producing such copies and backdating them was partly an attempt to profit and, in part, a means of taking revenge on the critics who attacked his later works.

Oil on canvas - Private collection

Women Singing II (1967)
Artwork Images

Women Singing II (1967)

Artist: Willem de Kooning

Artwork description & Analysis: This work is typical of de Kooning's style upon returning to the figure, which he began to do with a new series of paintings of women, shortly after moving permanently to Long Island. Like his earlier Women series, these are highly abstract,but they are less ferocious, and more obviously eroticized,with bright red lips and long blond hair that border on caricature. They were inspired by watching television and observing the new fashions and pop idols of the 1960s.

Oil on paper laid on canvas - Tate Modern, London UK

If you see an error or typo, please:
tell us
Cite this page

Content compiled and written by The Art Story Contributors

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

" Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by The Art Story Contributors
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
Available from:
[Accessed ]