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Adolph Gottlieb was born March 14, 1903, in New York. Dissatisfied with high school, he left and began working with his father. He later enrolled in the Art Students’ League, where he took classes under John Sloan and attended lectures by Robert Henri. In 1921, Gottlieb traveled to Europe and lived in Paris for six months, where he attended sketch classes at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière and visited the Musée du Louvre every day. He stayed in Europe for an additional year, travelling to Berlin, Munich, Vienna, and Prague, visiting galleries and museums. In 1923 he returned to New York and finished high school by following evening classes.
Gottlieb’s desire to be an artist led him to study at Parsons School of Design, the Art Art Students’ League, Cooper Union, and the Educational Alliance. In 1924 he exhibited at the Opportunity Gallery in New York. In 1933 he moved to Brooklyn, where he befriended artist David Smith. In 1935 Gottlieb was a founding member of The Ten, a group of artists devoted to expressionist and abstract painting. In 1936 he joined the Easel Painting division of the WPA Federal Art Project. The following year he moved to the desert near Tucson, Arizona. During the early 1940s Gottlieb returned to New York and abandoned figurative painting in favor of a highly personal style that combined abstract signs and symbols, creating works he called pictograophs.
The first pictographs were exhibited in 1942 at the Artists Gallery in New York. Gottlieb’s shapes and imaginary landscapes were inspired by Native American art and the ideas of the Surrealist, many of whom had fled to the United States because of World War II. In 1943 he was among the founders of the New York Artists Painters, a group of abstract painters including George Constant, John Graham, and Mark Rothko. In 1948 he organized a protest at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, leading to Gottlieb and his peers to be known as the Irascibles. In 1963 he became the first U.S. artists to be awarded the Grand Prize at the São Paolo Bienal. In 1968 a major retrospective exhibition of his work was organized jointly by the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Musuem. Adolph Gottlieb died on March 4, 1974, in New York.