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Untitled Etching 1
19 x 29 3/4 inches
Etching and aquatint
Barnett Newman’s Untitled Etching 1 (First Version), from 1968, is one of only five discrete printed works in the artist’s oeuvre. Two suites of prints, 18 Cantos (1963–64) and Notes (1968–78), account for the remainder of the artist’s rich but quantitatively limited graphic output. Several scholars have noted the compositional similarities between Untitled Etching 1 and a painting by Newman from 1961 titled Shining Forth (To George). The dedication in the title of the latter work refers to Newman’s younger brother, George, whose sudden passing earlier that year deeply affected the artist. The elegiac qualities of Shining Forth likely informed Newman’s decision to revisit the composition years later, when in 1968 he was asked by collector and philanthropist Vera List to include a printed work in a portfolio of prints that would honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who had been assassinated earlier that year. With this project in mind, Newman continued to work with the Long Island print publisher Universal Limited Art Editions (ULAE), where he would explore intaglio processes for the first time. After experimenting on a series of eighteen very small plates titled Notes, Newman took to a larger format with confidence and a mastery of line in two etchings, Untitled Etching 1 and Untitled Etching 2, which Riva Castleman, print curator at the Museum of Modern Art, acknowledged as being the “undisputed masterpieces” of the artist’s printed works. Untitled Etching 1 was printed in an edition of twenty-seven impressions for the King portfolio and set aside. A second version was printed from the same plate on a slightly different paper in an edition of twenty-eight impressions and was published by ULAE in 1969. The King portfolio never materialized, and although Newman had intended to return to ULAE to sign the twenty-seven impressions of the first version, the artist died suddenly of a heart attack in 1970, leaving the prints unsigned at the time of his death. The artist’s wife, Annalee Newman, signed and numbered Untitled Etching 1 (First Version) at ULAE in 1976. These impressions were later distributed by Harry N. Abrams, Inc. with special copies of Harold Rosenberg’s monograph Barnett Newman.