I saw an ad in the paper for a “Lost Jackson Pollock” coming up for auction on June 20th at J. Levine Auction & Appraisal in Scottsdale, AZ, and of course this prompts my curiosity. You can read the story in a number of sources online, but here’s the basic overview: a man in Scottsdale was planning a move to a retirement home, and a neighbor came to help with the move. When going through the garage, they found a signed Los Angeles Lakers poster from the 1990s, and thought it might be worth a few hundred bucks. But behind the poster were stacked a number of paintings, including works that were later confirmed to be by noted artists Kenneth Noland and Jules Olitski. The man who had these in his garage had taken possession of them when his half-sister, Jenifer Gordon Cosgriff, died in the 1990s, leaving them behind. He didn’t give much thought to what any of these paintings might be, until the person coming to appraise the Lakers poster thought that it looked like a Pollock.
The key in leading to the possibility that this is a Pollock is the fact that Jenifer Gordon Cosgriff lived in New York and was a good friend of Clement Greenberg, an influential art critic who was a major supporter of Abstract Expressionism, and Jackson Pollock in particular. But more importantly than the friend-of-a-friend connection, they tried to track Gordon Cosgriff to a Pollock showing where she reasonably could have acquired the painting in question. Once this was confirmed, the auctioneer brought forensics experts into the mix to analyze the painting itself. “Based on their work and findings, I believe this painting was one of Pollock’s missing gouaches in his catalogue raisonné from the period of 1945 to 1949,” says the auctioneer, J. Levine (pictured above left). However, scholars often debate the authenticity of Pollock paintings, and the Pollock-Krasner Foundation does not authenticate paintings, and so one cannot say with 100% certainty that this is an original Pollock.
I’m not going to pretend that I’m a Jackson Pollock expert by any stretch, but at first glance, the thing that seems “off” to me are these light colored “loop” brushstrokes in the painting (circled in red). The base part of the painting has a Pollock-like feel of the drips that he is known for, but there’s something strange about these loops, which seem hand-applied with a brush rather than dripped like the rest of it. Let’s take a look at some other Pollock works and see if we can find any similar loops.
Despite my initial skepticism, it’s interesting that one of my first finds in a search is this famous Pollock from MoMA’s permanent collection titled “The She-Wolf” from 1943. You can see a close-up view (below right) with some loops that comes from the near-left side of the full painting, which is seen below left. These loops are also on top of drips and splatters, so maybe my first reaction is not so accurate.
I decided to look further in a major Pollock monograph by Ellen G. Landau to see what I could find, and I’ll be the first to admit that my initial hunch seems way off-base, as I’m finding loops elsewhere in his work from the 1940s. I guess I have the large-scale drip paintings (like the ones in this feature) so ingrained in my visual memory that I was overlooking the presence of many loops throughout his work. I’ll include a few details of works found in the book below. Clockwise, from top left, we have: detail from “Pasiphae,” 1943; detail from “Guardians of the Secret,” 1943; detail from “The Key,” 1946; and detail from “Alchemy,” 1947.
I don’t know, what do you think? Is the mark-making of these loops similar enough to suggest that the Scottsdale Pollock is real? Or is the investigative connections between Gordon Cosgriff and Pollock enough to make a conclusion? Please share your thoughts in the comments below …