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Wolfgang Paalen



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Born in Austria to a Jewish family, Wolfgang Paalen became associated with Surrealism in Paris before traveling to Mexico in 1939, where he remained during World War II in order to evade Nazi anti-Semitism and the Holocaust. There he became a link among Mexican intellectuals, emerging US Abstract Expressionists, and such Surrealists as the Chilean artist Roberto Matta, who visited Paalen in 1941. He further fostered wide-ranging aesthetic connections through the art journal he founded, DYN, in which he articulated artistic theories based on, among other things, ancient American art, quantum physics, and Marxist critique. Paalen made this painting shortly before his death by suicide after a struggle with depression and bipolar disorder. Dabs of vivid color proliferate across the canvas, suggesting the rich magenta clusters of the flowering vine Bougainvillea, after which the work is titled. In his final two years Paalen pursued a style described by the celebrated Mexican author Octavio Paz as a “florid tempest,” characterized by a sampling of the brilliant colors and vibrant textures of plant life in the Yucatan peninsula, where he frequently traveled. [Permanent collection label, 2021. Revised 2023]

  • Artist Wolfgang Paalen (Mexican, b. Austria, 1907–1959)
  • Title Bougainvillea
  • Date 1959
  • Medium Oil on canvas
  • Dimensions unframed | 38 9/16 x 51 7/16 in.
  • Credit line Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Pulitzer, Jr., 1974
  • Object number WU 4529

Mr. Joseph Pulitzer, Jr.

Inscription Recto, lower right, in orange paint: Paalen 59

Label Verso, upper left corner on stretcher bars, white rectangular label with black text and inscriptions in brown ink: [printed:] GALERIA ANTONIO SAUZA / GENOVA 67-2 / MEXICO D.F. / Artista / Fecha / Medio / Medidas / Titulo / [inscribed:] PAALEN / 1959 / OLEO [obscured by tear] N TELA / 9 [obscured by tear] x1.30 / "BOU [obscured by tear] ANVILLA"

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