JULES KIRSCHENBAUM (1930–2000)
Without the Hope of Dreams, 1953
Oil on canvas, 84 1/8 x 36 1/8 in.
Signed and dated (on the skull in the lower right): Jules Kirschenbaum / 1953
RECORDED: Howard Devree, “Round-Up And Solo: “The Whitney Opens its Painting Annual— One-Man Shows and a Group,” New York Times, October 18, 1953, p. 9X // Thomas Worthen, Jules Kirschenbaum: The Need to Dream of Some Transcendent Meaning (Iowa City: University of Iowa Museum of Art, 2006), p. 9 no. 16 illus.in color
EXHIBITED: The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, Annual Exhibition of Contemporary American Painting, October 15–December 6, 1953, no. 70
EX COLL.: the artist; to his widow, Cornelis Ruhtenberg, Des Moines, Iowa; to private collection, Cincinnati, Ohio, until the present
Jules Kirchenbaum was a young artist when he painted Without the Hope of Dreams. It is clearly intended as a “statement” work, physically large and enigmatic enough to assure the viewer of hidden layers of meaning. Kirschenbaum was sufficiently pleased with the painting to send it for exhibition to the 1953 Annual Exhibition of Contemporary American Art at the Whitney Museum of American Art on West 8th Street in the heart of Greenwich Village. It was a dramatic calling card, announcing his arrival as an up-and-coming young American artist. As it happened, however, the 1950s witnessed the establishment of Abstract Expressionism as the American style.
The model in Without the Hope of Dreams is the artist Cornelis Ruhtenberg (1923–2008), whom Kirschenbaum married in 1956. She sits forlornly on a rooftop landing of what appears to be a prison, as hemmed in by surrounding rooftops and iron structures as seen as the figure in the prison below, whose hand grips the bars of a small window. Patches of sky, though visible above, offer no chance of escape. The intricate folds of Ruhtenberg’s dress are quotations from Mantegna. While Kirschenbaum certainly saw the work of the Paduan master in Europe, he could just as likely have spent hours in front of Mantegna’s The Adoration of the Shepherds, in the collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art since 1932.