Permanent Galleries

The King is Dead



Grace Hartigan
The King is Dead
American, born 1922
oil on canvas
65 x 96.5 inches (165.1 x 245.11 cm)
Acquired with funds provided by Mr. Al Nathe
1995.023

Grace Hartigan is often grouped with the second generation of Abstract Expressionists, artists whose works were influenced by psychic automatism and the writings of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. Developed in New York City during the late 1940s, Abstract Expressionism was the first truly American style. It stressed the visual representation of the subconscious and personal responses to intellectual and universal ideas. Despite her affiliation with the movement, throughout her career Hartigan tried to evolve an individual style, often alternating abstraction with figuration. 

The King is Dead reveals both Hartigan’s Abstract Expressionist roots and her search to develop her own style. The work is most directly influenced by Jackson Pollock. Hartigan set down short diagonal brushstrokes in densely interwoven patterns of vibrant reds, whites, blues, and yellows. The balanced, allover composition seemingly reaches beyond the borders of the canvas and forward into the viewer’s space. Unlike Pollock’s method of drip painting, though, Hartigan did not relinquish control of the paint; she always maintained contact between the brush and the canvas. The title proclaims her belief in Abstract Expressionism, which she referred to as “the triumph of American painting.” King Picasso has been dethroned and Pollock now reigns.