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Philip Guston

The Patient


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While recovering from a near-fatal heart attack in 1979, Philip Guston painted this canvas, in which a limb-like appendage, patched with scrap metal and studded with bent nails in the place of fingers, extends toward the keyhole of a closed door. It is unclear if the object in the hole is a key or a nail, raising questions about whether the door can ever be opened. Is it a portal, or a barrier to what lies beyond? The painting may reflect Guston’s personal experiences with illness and aging as well as a more general anxiety about an artist’s search for meaning. Stylistically it is representative of the cartoonish, figurative paintings Guston made in the final two decades of his life. The artist began his career as a figurative painter, took up gestural abstraction around midcentury, and then returned to representation in the late 1960s. Using thick outlines and fleshy pink and pastel colors, he painted with a vocabulary of repeated images, including cigarette butts, keys, paintbrushes, and disembodied limbs. Through these symbols, Guston commented—often with dark humor—on contemporary politics, the fate of humanity, and, as seen here, his own life. [Permanent Collection Label, 2023]

  • Artist Philip Guston (American, 1913–1980)
  • Title The Patient
  • Date 1979
  • Medium Oil on canvas
  • Dimensions unframed | 48 x 60 in.
  • Credit line Bequest of Musa Guston, 1992
  • Object number WU 1992.18
  • Currently on View James M. Kemper Gallery, Room 2

Ugly: An Alternative Look at Western Art
Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, Washington University in St. Louis, 06/05/2013 - 07/29/2013

Teaching Gallery exhibition
Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, Washington University in St. Louis, 01/23/2004 - 03/28/2004

Twentieth Century Art from the Washington University Collection
Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, Washington University in St. Louis, 01/28/1994 - 03/27/1994

Musa Guston

Inscription Recto, lower left, in gray paint: Philip Guston

Inscription Verso, upper left, in black marker: PHILIP GUSTON / "THE PATIENT" [underlined] 1979 / OIL - 48 X 60

Label Verso, center left on stretcher, white rectangular label, in black marker: 592. THE PATIENT [spot of blue ink] 1979 48x60"

Label Verso, center on stretcher, white rectangular label, text printed in black: DAVID MCKEE INC. / 140 EAST 63 STREET NEW YORK N.Y. 10021 / Philip GUSTON (b. 1913) / The Patient [underlined] 1979 / Oil on canvas / 48 X 60 inches / C 1656

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