In 1943, Peggy Guggenheim commissioned her newest protégé, the thirty-one-year-old Jackson Pollock, to paint a mural for the entrance hall of her apartment in a townhouse on East Sixty-first Street. Earlier that year, the truculent young Westerner had exhibited a canvas of an abstracted reclining figure—or, possibly, two upright figures on opposite sides of a table—in the Spring Salon for Young Artists at Guggenheim’s recently opened Art of This Century gallery. The painting, now known as Stenographic Figure (1942, Museum of Modern Art, New York), impressed the exhibition’s jurors, Marcel Duchamp and Piet Mondrian. Mondrian, who had been resident in New York since 1940, called Pollock’s submission “the most interesting work I’ve seen so far in America.” This enthusiasm probably influenced Guggenheim’s support of the aspiring...


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