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Le Ciel Amoureux, 1960
Stephen GreeneAmerican, 1917-1999
Oil on canvas
68-1/8 x 68-1/8 in. (173.0 x 173.0 cm)
Norton Simon Museum, Gift of Mr. Edwin Janss, Jr.
Not on view
Figurative painting was Stephen Greene’s first occupation prior to moving to abstraction, a change made largely in response to the critical writing
of Clement Greenberg whose authority he found compelling. Always active and engaged as an artist, Greene won the Prix de Rome Prize in 1952,
enabling him to study in Italy where he met his wife, novelist Sigrid de Lima. Both would become deeply involved in the New York avant-garde community of the 1960s. As a visiting professor at Princeton University from 1956 to 1959, he taught Frank Stella, and was instrumental in supporting the young artist’s career. In 1961, Le Ciel Amoureux was one of several paintings to represent the United States in the VI Bienal do Museu de Arte Moderna in Sao Paulo, Brazil, curated by René d’Harnoncourt, then director of MOMA, New York.
Le Ciel Amoureux presents an intricate fusion of painterly, subject-oriented composition and Color Field painting. A lush, Mediterranean blue— inspired by memories of his honeymoon with Sigrid in Sidi Bou Said, Tunisia—occupies most of the canvas in one velvety-smooth field. It gives
an impression of overt optimism. The threatening form at left, suggestive of the gaping jaws of a predatory animal, is the counterpoint, figuratively and pictorially, and one wonders if it symbolizes the transitory nature of love and happiness. Green shared the Abstract Expressionist sensibility that the act of painting revealed one’s innermost feelings and, therefore, art could touch an emotional core within the viewer.
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