Robert Rauschenberg, Untitled [glossy black painting], ca. 1951


Untitled [glossy black painting] (ca. 1951) is part of a body of work known as the Black paintings that Robert Rauschenberg began in 1951, while he was a student at Black Mountain College in North Carolina, and developed intermittently over the next two years. Although the Black paintings are not a discrete series in the same sense as the artist’s White Paintings (1951) or Red Paintings (1953–54), they are all composed of layers of newspaper and dense black paint, and together they represent Rauschenberg’s extended study of the boundary between painting and collage. One the most lustrous of his Black paintings, Untitled [glossy black painting] is believed to date from the earliest phase of Rauschenberg’s involvement with this group of works, but the chronology of his production in the years 1951 to 1953 remains somewhat loosely defined. The painting reveals its complex construction and texture as light reflects off of the collaged, dipped, and painted newspaper fragments teeming on its highly articulated surface. The individual curls and ripples of paper echo the contours of traditional brushstrokes, in some passages even taking on the gestural quality of abstract expressionist paintings.

Spots of red-orange and pink visible along the work’s tacking margins indicate that Untitled [glossy black painting] was created on top of another work, possibly one of his own or that of a friend. Rauschenberg frequently painted over previous efforts, both out of economic necessity and because he considered his artworks to be living, changing entities. This highly unconventional belief led him to substantially repaint Untitled [glossy black painting] sometime in the 1980s, adding a fresh coat of black over much of the left side in order to cover up some drips of white paint that had accidentally marred the work’s surface.

In a 1963 interview Rauschenberg noted that he wanted his Black paintings to have “complexity without their revealing anything.” Although the dark surface of Untitled [glossy black painting] has been associated with destruction or burning, the color black did not carry such negative connotations for the artist. The use of dark pigment was simply an ideal means of highlighting the texture of the newspaper while concealing its text. Here Rauschenberg’s skillful use of black resulted in an austere, inky surface that plays with notions of expression and gesture, challenging the very idea of what makes a painting a painting.

Ownership, Exhibition, and Publication Histories

Ownership History

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, purchase through a gift of Phyllis Wattis, 1998

Exhibition History

Robert Rauschenberg: Selections, Fort Worth Art Center Museum, Fort Worth, Texas, January 5–February 2, 1969.

Rauschenberg: The White and Black Paintings 1949–1952, Larry Gagosian Gallery, New York, April 18–May 31, 1986.

ROCI USSR, Central House of Artists, Moscow, February 2–March 5, 1989.

Robert Rauschenberg: The Early 1950s, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., June 15–August 11, 1991. Traveled to: The Menil Collection, Houston, September 27, 1991–January 5, 1992; Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, February 8–April 19, 1992; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, May 14–August 16, 1992; Guggenheim Museum SoHo, New York, October 24, 1992–January 24, 1993.

Singular Dimensions in Painting, Guggenheim Museum SoHo, New York, May 26, 1993–January 4, 1994.

Robert Rauschenberg: A Retrospective, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, September 19, 1997–January 7, 1998. Traveled to: The Menil Collection, Houston, February 13–May 17, 1998; Museum Ludwig, Cologne, Germany, June 27–October 11, 1998; Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, Spain, November 21, 1998–March 7, 1999.

Robert Rauschenberg, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, May 7–September 7, 1999.

Points of Departure II: Connecting with Contemporary Art, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, November 17, 2001–June 9, 2002.

Robert Rauschenberg at SFMOMA, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, June 27–September 8, 2002.

Treasures of Modern Art: The Legacy of Phyllis Wattis at SFMOMA, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, January 30–June 24, 2003.

Black Paintings, Haus der Kunst, Munich, September 15, 2006–January 14, 2007.

75 Years of Looking Forward: The Anniversary Show, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, December 19, 2009–January 16, 2011 (on view through June 30, 2010).

50 Years at Pace: The Abstract Expressionist and Pop Art Years, Pace Gallery, September 17–October 23, 2010.

In addition to appearing in the special exhibitions listed above, Untitled [glossy black painting] was shown in SFMOMA’s galleries in 1999, 2000, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, and 2016 as part of a series of rotating presentations of the permanent collection.

This listing has been updated since the launch of the Rauschenberg Research Project and is complete as of August 31, 2016.

Publication History

Robert RauschenbergSelections (Fort Worth, TX: Fort Worth Art Center Museum, 1968), n.p. (ill.).

Walter Hopps, ed., Robert Rauschenberg (Washington, D.C.: National Collection of Fine Arts, Smithsonian Institution, 1976), 67 (ill.).

Rauschenberg: The White and Black Paintings 1949–1952 (New York: Larry Gagosian Gallery, 1986), n.p. (ill.).

Roni Feinstein, “The Early Work of Robert Rauschenberg: The White Paintings, the Black Paintings, and the Elemental Sculptures,” Arts Magazine 61, no. 1 (September 1986): 32, cover image.

———, “Random Order: The First Fifteen Years of Robert Rauschenberg’s Art, 1949–1964” (PhD diss., New York University, 1990), iii, 103.

Mary Lynn Kotz, Rauschenberg, Art and Life (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1990), 77 (ill.).

Walter Hopps, Robert Rauschenberg: The Early 1950s (Houston: Menil Foundation and Houston Fine Art Press, 1991), 63, 67, 89 (ill.).

———, Robert Rauschenberg: The Early 1950s (Houston: Menil Foundation, 1991), 32. Exhibition booklet produced for the Menil presentation only.

ラウシェンバーグ [Rauschenberg], Gendai bijutsu 14 (Tokyo: Kodansha, 1993), n.p. (ill.).

Robert Rauschenberg: Man at Work, directed by Chris Granlund (London: BBC and RM ARTS, 1997), DVD, 57 min.

Walter Hopps and Susan Davidson, eds., Robert Rauschenberg: A Retrospective (New York: Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 1997), 23, 44, 62 (ill.).

Robert Rauschenberg, video interview by David A. Ross, Walter Hopps, Gary Garrels, and Peter Samis, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, May 6, 1999. Unpublished transcript, SFMOMA Research Library and Archives, N 6537 .R27 A35 1999a, 36–39.

Kenneth Baker, “Rauschenberg Coup at SFMOMA: ‘Port of Entry’ a Major New Work,” San Francisco Chronicle, May 8, 1999.

“‘Points of Departure II’ at SFMOMA Explores Contemporary Art,” Antiques and the Arts, May 3, 2002.

Branden W. Joseph, Random Order: Robert Rauschenberg and the Neo-Avant-Garde (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2003), 83 (ill.).

Stephanie Rosenthal, Black Paintings (Munich: Haus der Kunst, 2006), 27, 29, 101, 116–17 (ill.).

Bruno Marchand, ed., Robert Rauschenberg: Crítica e obra de 1949 a 1974 (Porto, Portugal: Fundação de Serralves, 2008), 49 (ill.).

Gerry Coulter, “Passings: Robert Rauschenberg and the Joy of Making,” International Journal of Baudrillard Studies 5, no. 2 (July 2008). Accessed June 23, 2013.

“SFMOMA 75th Anniversary: Peter Samis,” interview conducted by Jess Rigelhaupt, 2008, Regional Oral History Office, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley, 2009, 8. Accessed June 23, 2013.

Janet Bishop, Corey Keller, and Sarah Roberts, eds., San Francisco Museum of Modern Art: 75 Years of Looking Forward (San Francisco: San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 2009), 146, 432.

SFMOMA 75th Anniversary: David White,” interview conducted by Richard Cándida Smith, Sarah Roberts, Peter Samis, and Jill Sterrett, 2009, Regional Oral History Office, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley, 2010, 14, 17–25, 28–30. Accessed June 23, 2013.

Yve-Alain Bois, Arne Glimcher, Marc Glimcher, et al., 50 Years at Pace (New York: Pace Gallery, 2010), 156 (ill.).

Dorothy Spears, “Pedigree and Promise in 50 Years at Pace,” Huffington Post, October 5, 2010. Accessed June 23, 2013.

David Ebony, “Pace 50 Years and Counting,” Art in America 98, no. 10 (November 2010): 129 (ill.).

Nicholas Cullinan, “The Empty Canvas,” in Destroy the Picture: Painting the Void, 1949–1962, ed. Paul Schimmel (Los Angeles: Museum of Contemporary Art, 2012), 228 (ill. as Untitled).

Branden W. Joseph, Random Order: Robert Rauschenberg et la néo-avant-garde, trans. Anaël Lejeune, Olivier Mignon, and Raphaël Pirenne (Brussels: Continental Rift, 2012), 112 (ill.).

Rolando Pérez, Severo Sarduy and the Neo-Baroque Image of Thought in the Visual Arts (West Lafayette, IN: Purdue University Press, 2012), 273n41.

Richard H. Brown, “On Robert Rauschenberg, Artist, and His Work (1961),” A Year from Monday, January 9, 2012. Accessed June 23, 2013.

Craig Staff, Monochrome (London: I.B. Tauris & Co., Ltd., 2015), 45 (ill.).

Summer Sewell, “Quality Control: Storing and Restoring at the New SFMOMA,” The California Sunday Magazine, May 12, 2016. Accessed August 15, 2016.

This listing has been updated since the launch of the Rauschenberg Research Project and is complete as of August 31, 2016.

Marks and Inscriptions

Recto: None

Verso: Upper left corner brace bears multiple measurements, arrows, and markings in pencil; upper right corner brace, inscription in pencil: “RAUSCHENBERG 61 FULTON ST. NYC” (additional pencil inscription: “TOP” with “[up arrow]” crossed out; another inscription in pencil is crossed out and illegible); lower left corner brace, inscription in pencil: “TOP” (inscription upside down); lower right corner brace, inscription in pencil: “RAUSCHENBERG 61 FULTON ST. NYC” (inscription upside down; additional pencil inscription: “TOP” crossed out)

Artwork Info

Artwork title
Untitled [glossy black painting]
Artist name
Robert Rauschenberg
Date created
ca. 1951
enamel and newspaper on canvas
71 15/16 x 53 in. (182.7 x 134.6 cm)
Date Acquired
Collection SFMOMA
Purchase through a gift of Phyllis C. Wattis
© Robert Rauschenberg Foundation
Permanent URL
Artwork Status
Not on view at this time.

Research Materials

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