Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Master of Arts


Visual Arts


Professor John Hatch


In 2011, Clyfford Still’s painting 1949-A-No.1 sold for $61.7 million at Sotheby’s auction house. This painting was one of four up for auction by the artist that night, fetching a total of $114 million to build the Clyfford Still Museum in Denver to house his entire estate. Still was among the most celebrated and notorious of the Abstract Expressionists, receiving the highest praise from Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, and Clement Greenberg during his lifetime. Still’s legacy has faltered since his death in 1980. Until 2011, 95% of his life’s work was stored in a barn in Maryland, hidden from view. Limited availability and accessibility of Clyfford Still’s artwork make him today’s “greatest unknown painter.”

This thesis begins to explore the previously hidden life and work of Clyfford Still in the 1930s, using the archival and visual material at the Clyfford Still Museum. I have approached the project chronologically to show how his work in the 1930s set the foundation for his success in as an Abstract Expressionist in the 1950s. Still was committed to creating a North American art form free from European influence and, as a result, traveled extensively within the United States and Canada. By largely eschewing the New York art scene, Still found inspiration in North West Coast Native American culture. His interest in man’s relationship with the land was a theme that he derived from Native American culture and also related to the popular Regionalist art movement. Many themes from the 1930s evolved into symbolic motifs that he used for the rest of his career.