Mark Tobey

Mark Tobey


“A painting should be a textile, texture. That’s enough! Perhaps I was influenced by my mother. She used to sew and sew.” Mark Tobey

Influences from a builder-carpenter father and a seamstress mother have enriched the multifaceted work of a major protean artist: painter, poetand composer.

« Like Kandinsky, Klee and Mondrian, Tobey sees the highest reality as spiritual rather than physical. » William Chapin Seitz

At the crossroads between European Cubism and Asian painting, Mark Tobey’s work is above all spiritual,  drawing resources from Oriental religions and philosophies: Zen and Baha’I which he discovered during his numerous trips to Asia, the Near and Middle East.

A pioneer in the use of sign in painting, Tobey learned Chinese calligraphy, especially through his decisive encounter with the Chinese painter TengKuei in 1923.

Trained at the Art Institute of Chicago, Mark Tobey is none the less fundamentally self taught, exploring the multiple possibilities of using abstraction: with Jackson Pollock, he is one of the first to have used the innovative technique of allover as early as 1944 with his white writings – overlays of white color completely covering his calligraphic writing – then tending towards more and more abstract works, in tune with a way of life that was becoming progressively more meditative and contemplative.

Close to the great dealer, Ernst Beyelerwho was his neighbor and friend, Mark Tobey divided his life between the United States and Switzerland.

In 1959, Mark Tobey was the first American artist since James Whistler to win the InternationalPrize for Painting at the Venice Biennale.

« His art, though unassuming, is nonetheless a continual dialogue with the spirit. There are the Tablets of the Law whose indecipherable writing often moves us like messages from another world » Michel Ragon

mark tobey


Major public collections

Bâle, Kunstmuseum
Bruxelles, Musées royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique
Londres, Tate Gallery
Los Angeles, The Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA)
Madrid, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia
New-York, Museum of Modern Art (MoMa)
New-York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
San Francisco, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco
Venise, Peggy Guggenheim Collection
Washington, National Gallery of Art
Washington, The Phillips Collection
Washington, Smithsonian American Art Museum


Selected exhibitions

Painting and Sculpture by Living Americans exhibition, Museum of Modern Art (MoMa), New York, 1930-31
Rétrospective, Seattle Art Museum, Seattle, 1934
Mark Tobey retrospective, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 1951
American Painting, Tate Gallery, Londres, 1956
Rétrospective, Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris, 1961
Rétrospective, Museum of Modern Art, New York / Phillips Collection, Washington, 1962
Mark Tobey: Works 1933-1966, Rétrospective, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, 1966
Rétrospective, Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, Dallas, 1968
Tribute to Mark Tobey, Smithsonian Institution, National Collection of Fine Arts, Washington / Seattle Art Museum, Seattle / City Art Museum, St. Louis, 1974-75
Rétrospective, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid, 1997-98
Mark Tobey, Staatsgalerie, Stuttgart, 2001

The Water Lilies. American Abstract Painting and the last Monet > Musée de l’Orangerie – Paris > 13th April – 20th August 2018

Nymphéas. L’abstraction américaine et le dernier Monet

In 1955, Alfred Barr brought one of Monet’s large panels of Water Lilies (W1992) into the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, at a time when these great “decorations”, still in the studio in Giverny, were beginning to attract the attention of collectors and museums.
Monet was presented at that time as “a bridge between the naturalism of early Impressionism and the highly developed school of Abstract Art” in New York, with his Water Lilies seen in the context of Pollock’s paintings, such as Autumn Rhythm (number 30), 1950. The reception of these later Monet works resonated with American Abstract Expression then coming into the museum collections. At the same time, the idea of “Abstract Impressionism” was forged.
The exhibition at the Musée de l’Orangerie focuses on this precise moment – when the great decorations of the master of Giverny were rediscovered and the New York School of Abstract Art was recognised – with a selection of some of Monet’s later works and around twenty major paintings by American artists such as Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman, Clyfford Still, Helen Frankenthaler, Morris Louis, Philip Guston, Joan Mitchell, Mark Tobey, Sam Francis, Jean-Paul Riopelle and Ellsworth Kelly.
At the entrance to the Water Lilies, there is a tribute to Ellsworth Kelly, the American abstract artist who died in 2015 and whose work is still in dialogue with Monet’s. This display was designed by Eric de Chassey with the support of the American Friends of the Musée d’Orsay and the Musée de l’Orangerie.

General curator
Cécile Debray, chief curator, director of the Musée de l’Orangerie

More informations

Mark Tobey: Threading Light > Guggenheim’s Museum of Venice > 6th May – 10th September 2017

This comprehensive exhibition of Mark Tobey’s work traces the evolution of the artist’s groundbreaking style and his contributions to abstraction and mid-century American modernism.

Curated by Debra Bricker Balken

More informations