Barnett Newman was born on January 29, 1905, in New York. In 1922 he studied at the Art Students League, where he became friends with Adolph Gottlieb. The following year he enrolled at the City College of New York. In 1931 he began to teach art as a substitute teacher in public schools in New York City. In 1943 he criticized the jury of a show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art for not valuing originality, and organized a protest along with Milton Avery, Gottlieb, and Mark Rothko.

In 1947, together with Rothko and Clyfford Still, he organized the The Ideographic Picture exhibition at the Betty Parsons Gallery, where he sold his first painting. The following year he painted Onement I (1948), a breakthrough work that touched off the two most productive years of his career, and published the essay “The Sublime Is Now,” in which he proposed a new kind of art entirely detached from European influence. Newman was particularly interested in the material quality of paint and started using new Magna acrylics, which combinine oil and tempera to grant a high degree of plasticity when applied on canvas.

Newman’s first solo exhibition, which took place at the Betty Parsons Gallery in 1950, met with little success. Eight years later the Museum of Modern Art in New York included his work in The New American Painting exhibition, which traveled to Europe. That same year his first retrospective was held at Bennington College, Vermont. In 1960 he made the third and fourth paintings of the series he would eventually call The Stations of the Cross, having painted the first two in 1958 and shown them privately to the art critic Lawrence Alloway. In 1962 an exhibition at the Allan Stone Gallery in New York celebrated Newman and Willem de Kooning as the founders of new American painting. In 1964 Newman went to Europe for the first time, visiting England, Switzerland, Germany, and France. The following year he was the main artist represented in the United States pavilion at the São Paulo Bienal, alongside six other artists. In 1966 the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum presented the exhibition Barnett Newman: The Stations of the Cross: lema sabachthani. Newman died on July 4, 1970, in New York.