Midcentury Masterpieces Come to Yale University Art Gallery

A recent gift from the Friday Foundation has brought additional works by Mark Rothko and Franz Kline to the Yale University Art Gallery.

Like many of the abstract expressionists, Mark Rothko celebrated painting as a revelation of the self, an expression of the artist’s emotions and psychology. Rothko, who studied briefly at Yale College in the 1920s and received an honorary degree from the university in 1969, is famous for his large color field paintings.

Suggesting that his paintings be viewed up close and in dim light, he hoped to immerse the spectator in color. Yale students, researchers, and visitors can examine several of Rothko’s canvases at the Yale University Art Gallery.

A recent gift from the Friday Foundation has brought to the gallery additional works by Rothko and a contemporary, Franz Kline. The contribution honors the late Seattle philanthropists Jane Lang Davis and Richard E. Lang, who collected these pieces. Two paintings by Rothko show two distinct phases of his artistic development, and a painting and three works on paper by Kline convey Kline’s movement from figuration to abstraction.

“We are deeply grateful to the Friday Foundation for this incredible gift. The Lang collection was assembled with passion, intelligence, and remarkable vision, and it shows,” says Stephanie Wiles, the Henry J. Heinz II Director of the gallery. “The gift aligns with our mission to present the creative work of artists in multifaceted ways, whether by collecting art from different stages of their careers or representing the varied media in which they worked. We are thrilled to receive these stellar works for the gallery’s permanent collection and to share the Langs’ legacy with future generations of students, scholars, and visitors.”

Entrance to the Yale University Art Gallery

Teaching students for years to come

Founded in 1832, the Yale University Art Gallery is the oldest college art museum in the United States. Today, it is a New Haven cultural asset and a center for teaching, learning, and scholarship. The museum collects, studies, and exhibits art from all eras and across the globe.

The gift from the Friday Foundation augments the gallery’s midcentury American collections, enabling the gallery to provide a more nuanced view of these two artists’ styles, techniques, and interests. Curators and faculty members will teach with these works, giving students the opportunity to see the growth of each artist’s vision.

“My husband, Jerry Grinstein ’54, loved Rothko’s No. 11 (Yellow, Green, and Black),” says Lyn Grinstein, daughter of Jane Lang Davis. “It was such a happy thing that it fit with the gallery’s holdings, because my parents always envisioned their collection in an institutional setting like Yale. I’m so glad that these works will help teach students for years to come.”

Art in Context

“This gift enhances the gallery’s position as a center for innovative teaching with art,” says Keely Orgeman, the Seymour H. Knox, Jr., Associate Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art. “The individual works could be relevant to any course that covers mid-twentieth-century art and that teaches about the relationship between representation and abstraction during that period. They not only offer insight into Kline’s and Rothko’s artistic development but can also lead to discoveries of other artists who were similarly emerging from the figurative tradition and occasionally returning to it in their abstract styles, even in subtle ways.”

Orgeman notes that the gallery will show these works in an exhibition planned for the winter of 2022, which will present them alongside paintings, drawings, and sculpture from the gallery’s collection of mid-twentieth-century art. In the meantime, the gallery is celebrating the six paintings and drawings from the Lang collection in a focused installation open to the public this summer.

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