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Artists Barnett Newman
Barnett Newman Photo

Barnett Newman

American Painter

Movement: Abstract Expressionism

Born: January 29, 1905 - New York, New York

Died: July 4, 1970 - New York, New York

Barnett Newman Timeline


"It is our function as artists to make the spectator see the world our way not his way."
Barnett Newman
"There is no such thing as a good painting about nothing."
Barnett Newman
"I prefer to leave the paintings to speak for themselves."
Barnett Newman
"I hope that my painting has the impact of giving someone, as it did me, the feeling of his own totality, of his own separateness, of his own individuality."
Barnett Newman
"The problem of a painting is physical and metaphysical, the same as I think life is physical and metaphysical."
Barnett Newman

"I hope that my painting has the impact of giving someone, as it did me, the feeling of his own totality, of his own separateness, of his own individuality."

Barnett Newman Signature


Newman shared the Abstract Expressionists' interests in myth and the primitive unconscious, but the huge fields of color and trademark "zips" in his pictures set him apart from the gestural abstraction of many of his peers. The response to his mature work, even from friends, was muted when he first exhibited it. It was not until later in his career that he began to receive acclaim, and he would subsequently become a touchstone for both Minimalists and a second generation of Color Field painters. Commenting on one of Newman's exhibitions in 1959, critic Thomas B. Hess wrote, "he changed in about a year's time from an outcast or a crank into the father figure of two generations."

Key Ideas

Newman believed that the modern world had rendered traditional art subjects and styles invalid, especially in the post-World War II years shadowed by conflict, fear, and tragedy. Newman wrote: "old standards of beauty were irrelevant: the sublime was all that was appropriate - an experience of enormity which might lift modern humanity out of its torpor."
Newman's pictures were a decisive break with the gestural abstraction of his peers. Instead, he devised an approach that avoided painting's conventional oppositions of figure and ground. He created a symbol, the "zip," which might reach out and invoke the viewer standing before it - the viewer fired with the spark of life.
He thought that humans had a primal drive to create, and one could find expressions of the same instincts and yearnings locked in ancient art as one would find in modern art. He saw artists, and himself, as the creators of the world.


Barnett Newman Photo


Barnett Newman was born in 1905 to Jewish parents who had immigrated to New York from Russian Poland five years earlier. Barney, as his family and friends called him, grew up in Manhattan and the Bronx with three younger siblings. He started drawing at the Art Students League during high school, continuing to take classes there while earning a philosophy degree from City College of New York. It was at the Art Students League that he would meet and befriend Adolph Gottlieb, who would introduce him to important New York artists and gallery owners.

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Barnett Newman Biography Continues

Important Art by Barnett Newman

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

Onement I (1948)
Artwork Images

Onement I (1948)

Artwork description & Analysis: Newman saw Onement I as a breakthrough in his work. It features the first full incarnation of what he later called a "zip," a vertical band of color. This motif would play a central role in many of his subsequent paintings. The painting's title is an archaic derivation of the word "atonement," meaning, "the state of being made into one." For Newman, this unevenly painted zip on a flat field of color does not divide the canvas; rather, it merges both sides, drawing in the audience to intensely experience the work both physically and emotionally. Some have compared the zips to Alberto Giacometti's slender figures, reinforcing Newman's own connections between his paintings and the viewer's body.

Oil on canvas and oil on masking tape on canvas - The Museum of Modern Art, New York

Vir heroicus sublimis (1950-51)
Artwork Images

Vir heroicus sublimis (1950-51)

Artwork description & Analysis: Translated as "Man, heroic and sublime," Vir heroicus sublimis was, at 95 by 213 inches, Newman's largest painting at the time it was completed, although he would go on to create even more expansive works. He intended his audiences to view this and other large paintings from a close vantage point, allowing the colors and zips to fully surround them. In this piece, which is more complex than it initially appears, Newman's zips are variously solid or wavering, creating a perfect square in the center and asymmetrical spaces on the perimeter. Mel Bochner, an artist associated with Conceptualism, remembered encountering it at the Museum of Modern Art in the late 1960s and realizing that its scale and color created a new kind of contact between the artwork and the viewer. "A woman standing there [looking at it]...was covered with red," he recalled. "I realized it was the light shining on the painting reflecting back, filling the space between the viewer and the artwork that created the space, the place. And that that reflection of the self of the painting, the painting as the subject reflected on the viewer, was a wholly new category of experience."

Oil on canvas - The Museum of Modern Art, New York

The Wild (1950)
Artwork Images

The Wild (1950)

Artwork description & Analysis: The Wild is unique in Newman's oeuvre by virtue of its unusual size; at eight feet tall by one and a half inches wide, it focuses on the zip alone. When first exhibited it was placed directly across from the vast Vir heroicus sublimis (1950-51) and was said to be a response to the latter's sprawling size. It demonstrated Newman's belief that a painting need not be physically large to inspire an intense response from the viewer. The Wild could also be regarded as one of the first of the shaped canvases that became popular over a decade later with the arrival of artists such as Frank Stella and Kenneth Noland.

Oil on canvas - The Museum of Modern Art, New York

More Barnett Newman Artwork and Analysis:

Third Station (1960) Canto VII (1963) Broken Obelisk (1963-69) Yves Tanguy: Les Sourciers (1945) Piet Mondrian: Composition A (1923) Mark Rothko: Untitled (1955)

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Influences and Connections

Influences on Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Influenced by Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Barnett Newman
Interactive chart with Barnett Newman's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
View Influences Chart


Alberto GiacomettiAlberto Giacometti
Piet MondrianPiet Mondrian
Kazimir MalevichKazimir Malevich

Personal Contacts

Immanuel KantImmanuel Kant
Johann Wolfgang von GoetheJohann Wolfgang von Goethe
Georg  HegelGeorg Hegel
Karl MarxKarl Marx
Clement GreenbergClement Greenberg


Pre-Columbian ArtPre-Columbian Art
Abstract ExpressionismAbstract Expressionism
Color Field PaintingColor Field Painting

Influences on Artist
Barnett Newman
Barnett Newman
Years Worked: 1923 - 1940, 1944 - 1970
Influenced by Artist


Frank StellaFrank Stella
Carl AndreCarl Andre
Donald JuddDonald Judd
Dan FlavinDan Flavin
Kenneth NolandKenneth Noland

Personal Contacts

Clement GreenbergClement Greenberg
Thomas B. HessThomas B. Hess
Harold RosenbergHarold Rosenberg


Color Field PaintingColor Field Painting
Pop ArtPop Art

Useful Resources on Barnett Newman







The books and articles below constitute a bibliography of the sources used in the writing of this page. These also suggest some accessible resources for further research, especially ones that can be found and purchased via the internet.


Reconsidering Barnett Newman

By Melissa Ho, Mel Bochner, Yve-Alain Bois, B.H. Friedman, Mark Godfrey, Ben Heller, Carol Mancusi-Ungaro, Robert Murray, Suzanne Penn, Sarah K. Rich, Nan Rosenthal, Pierre Schneider, Gabriele Schor, Richard Shiff, Allan Stone

Barnett Newman Recomended resource

By Thomas B. Hess

written by artist

Barnett Newman: Selected Writings and Interviews Recomended resource

By Barnett Newman, John P. O'Neill, Richard Shiff

The Sublime Is Now: The Early Work of Barnett Newman

By Jeremy Strick, Barnett Newman, Walker Art Center, St. Louis Art Museum, Pace Gallery

More Interesting Books about Barnett Newman
Barnett Newman Foundation Recomended resource

Features a Chronology and Bibliography for the Artist

The Philadelphia Museum of Art: Barnett Newman

Includes Biographical Information and Images of Barnett Newman's Work

Museum of Modern Art: Barnett Newman

Provides an Image Gallery of Works by the Artist

Barnett Newman at Craig F. Starr Gallery

By Roberta Smith
The New York Times
November 29, 2011

He Had to Draw the Line Somewhere

By Tim Adams
The Observer
September 21, 2002

Barnett Newman and the Heroic Sublime Recomended resource

By Arthur C. Danto
The Nation
June 17, 2002

Lord Barney

By Peter Schjeldahl
The New Yorker
April 15, 2002

More Interesting Articles about Barnett Newman

in pop culture

Painters Painting (1973)

Film with Newman Interview

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Cite this page

Content compiled and written by Rachel Gershman

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

" Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Rachel Gershman
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
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