Country: USA
City: Dallas
Museum/Gallery: Menil Collection
Year: 1893–1968)

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from February 23 through August 11, 2024

janet-sobel-behind-glass RECSobel was a luminary of abstraction in the United States, and one of its primary innovators. Acclaimed in her lifetime for her skillful use of color and densely layered compositions. Sobel was the first artist to use the drip painting technique that directly influenced Jackson Pollock. In the early 1940s. Sobel innovated the radical techniques of Abstract Expressionism years before the movement had that name and his creation was erroneously assigned to Pollock.

Drip painting. All-Over painting. Action painting.
The term “all-over” emerged in the 1940s to denote a style of abstraction where the composition extends to the edges of the painting without an apparent center.


Untitled, ca. 1941. Gouache and varnish on paper mounted on board
21 3/4 × 15 in. (55.2 × 38.1 cm) Svetlana Zueva Collection. EX2024.JS.12.1

JANET SOBEL.Untitled, 1941. Gouache and varnish on paper mounted on board

DETAIL of Untitled, ca.1941JANET SOBEL.Untitled, 1941. Gouache and varnish on paper mounted on board DETAIL W.

Heavenly Quarrel, ca.1942
Gouache on board, 16 × 12 in. (40.6 × 30.5 cm)
Selig D. Sacks Family Collection.EX2024.JS.7

JANET SOBEL.Heavenly Quarrel, 1942

DETAIL of Heavenly Quarrel, ca.1942JANET SOBEL.Heavenly Quarrel, 1942.DETAIL W

Disappointment, ca.1943
Oil and sand on canvas, 26 × 43 in. (66 × 109.2 cm)
Collection of Gary Snyder, Montana. EX2024.JS.8.1

JANET SOBEL_Disappointment, ca. 1943_Oil and sand on canvas_EX2024.JS.8

DETAIL of Disappointment, ca.1943JANET SOBEL_Disappointment, ca. 1943_Oil and sand on canvas_EX2024.JS.8_DETAIL W

Sidney Janis REC 2

In 1943, her work was taken up by Sidney Janis, a major art collector and Art Dealer, who included some of her early paintings in group exhibitions that traveled around the United States.

Image: Sidney Janis

The start of a meteoric career 

peggy_guggenheim RECAfter participating in several group shows in 1943, Sobel received her first solo show in 1944 at New York’s Puma Gallery. The exhibition, which included The Burning Bush, 1944,  was widely reviewed and caught Guggenheim’s eye. It was she who would become Sobel’s greatest champion, who qualified Sobel as “the best woman painter by far (in America).” Image: Peggy Guggenheim.


The Burning Bush
Oil on canvas. 30 × 22 in. (76.2 × 55.9 cm)
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, American Art Acquisition Fund. EX2024.JS.5

JANET SOBEL.The Burning Bush, 1944

DETAIL of The Burning Bush, 1944JANET SOBEL.The Burning Bush, 1944.DETAIL W


Milky Way, 1945
Enamel on canvas 44 7/8 × 29 7/8 in. (114 × 75.9 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gi􀅌 of the ar􀆟st’s family, 1968. EX2024.JS.1.1

JANET SOBEL_Milky Way, 1945_Enamel on canvas_EX2024.JS.1_1000 W

DETAIL of Milky Way, 1945JANET SOBEL_Milky Way, 1945_Enamel on canvas_EX2024.JS.1_DETAIL W

Untitled, ca.1946-1948
Enamel and sand on board. 17 5/16 × 14 in. (43.9 × 35.6 cm)
Gift of Leonard Sobel and Family. 2020-19.1


DETAIL of Untitled, ca.1946-1948 

Untitled, ca.1946-48
Oil and enamel on canvas 18 × 14 1/2 in. (45.7 × 36.8 cm)
San Diego Museum of Art, Museum purchase with funds provided by Suzanne Figi
and Mrs. Norton S. Walbridge, 2002.1. EX2024.JS.6

JANET SOBEL_Untitled, ca. 1946-48_Oil and enamel on canvas_EX2024.JS_DETAIL W

DETAIL of Untitled, ca.1946-48JANET SOBEL_Untitled, ca. 1946-48_Oil and enamel on canvas_EX2024.JS_DETAIL 1 W

Heavenly Sympathy, ca.1947
Oil on canvas, 54 1/2 × 34 1/2 in. (138.4 × 87.6 cm)
Courtesy of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art,
Bentonville, Arkansas. EX2024.JS.13

A2011-010 Janet Sobel

DETAIL of Heavenly Sympathy, ca.1947JANET-SOBEL_Heavenly-Sympathy-1947_Oil-on-canvas_EX2024.JS_DETAIL-W.jpg

Clement-Greenberg-RECIn 1961, Clement Greenberg, the most influential American art critic of the 20th century, credits Sobel with the innovation often attributed to Pollock. Greenberg described Sobel’s technique as “the first really All-Over effect that I had seen.”
Image:Clement Greenberg

JANET SOBEL (1893–1968) 
A life as extraordinary as her painting

Janet Sobel painting in her apartment in Brooklyn, ca. 1944
Janet_Sobel_Archival_Image_1000 W

Janet Sobel (b. 1893; Dnipro, Ukraine) emigrated with her mother and two siblings to New York in 1908 after her father was killed in one of Ukraine’s many pogroms. She got married and raised a family. Sobel didn’t take up painting until around 1940. Why, exactly, is anyone’s guess. Perhaps she was inspired by one of her sons, Sol, was enrolled in classes at the Art Students League in New York from 1938 to 1939. From there, she connected with leading cultural figures who championed her work.

Sobel’s importance in the development of mid-century abstraction disappeared from Art History partly because he left New York at the height of her success. In 1947 Sobel moved to New Jersey with his family, coinciding with two other events that marked his career: first, according to the press at the time, he developed an allergy to a component of the paint he used, as a result, her painting production diminished. Secondly, in 1947, Peggy Guggenheim closed her New York gallery and moved to Italy. Because of these factors, Sobel never exhibited in New York again during his lifetime.”


Statements from Rebecca Rabinow, Director, The Menil Collection
Ricky Gettleman, Len-Sobel and Rebecca-RabinowRicky-Gettleman-Len-Sobel-Rebecca-Rabinow
“Over the course of our research, we became fascinated by the impact she made
during her brief career, and we are glad that her artwork will once again
receive the recognition it deserves,” 

How was it decided to hold this exhibition on Janet Sobel? In late 2020, the Menil Collection received a gift of four drawings and a painting from the artist’s grandson, Len Sobel. The quality and importance of her work was all that was needed to plan an exhibition.

Statements from the Curator Natalie Dupêcher
NATALIE DUPECHER con head line exhibition final 2 RET
“Sobel’s work rapidly caught the eye of leading art dealers, collectors, and artists”

“In The Women Exhibition” opened at Guggenheim’s prominent Art of This Century gallery in New York, Sobel’s work was on view alongside Louise Bourgeois and Leonora Carrington.

“Guggenheim advocated for Sobel’s work with other gallerists, purchased work for her own collection, and put Sobel in important exhibitions”

“Sobel exhibited alongside many of the artists closely associated with Abstract Expressionism,” “They were peers, and Pollock in particular is known to have admired her work.”

“’All-Over’ will be the first time many of Sobel’s paintings have been seen together since her death in 1968,”  “We are especially pleased to reunite a group of four identically sized abstract canvases, likely executed sequentially from around 1946 to 1948, that shed light on her groundbreaking process.”

“I hope this show reveals the importance of looking past those accepted narratives and doing original scholarly research to correct the record. Janet Sobel was a great modern artist and deserves to be recognized as such.”

Museums that lent works:
Major loans from the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art,
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, New York,
and the San Diego Museum of Art further reunite six of the artist’s famous
“all-over” paintings for the first time in sixty years.

The Menil Collection
Main Building. 1533 Sul Ross Street. Houston, Texas 77006
For further assistance, please call 713-525-9400
Admission to the Menil Collection and its exhibitions and programs is always free