Will the Real Janet Sobel Please Stand Up?

by Libby Seaberg


I first heard of the artist Janet Sobel in 1998, thirty years after her death. She was being cited because of her work’s connections to her contemporary Jackson Pollock’s, and because I had never heard of her before, and she was a woman, I decided I wanted to know more about her and her art.

        As a New York–born artist and art historian who had written her master’s essay on Marc Chagall’s book illustrations under Meyer Schapiro’s supervision, I was drawn even more to learning about Janet Sobel’s personal history when I learned that, like members of my family, she had emigrated to New York City from Eastern Europe—in fact, from the same region as Chagall—and that in mid-life, with no training, she had become not merely a well-regarded exhibiting artist in the 1940s, but one whose occasional examples of poured and fluid all-over abstraction slightly predated and possibly influenced Pollock’s own development.

        With these facts to propel me, I undertook what became a fairly lengthy search for reliable information about Janet Sobel, a search that included my study and evaluation of other writings about her and then the investigation of primary sources that could corroborate more accurate information about her life and career. When I went as far as I could in this search, I decided to create this Web site to present my findings.
        I would have loved to accompany this site with the authorized reproduction of Sobel’s painting Milky Way, which is in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art and is one of her best-known works, particularly because one of the few monographic articles about Janet Sobel, in the Spring/Summer 2005 issue of the Woman’s Art Journal, did reproduce this painting but incorrectly identified it as her painting Music. Unfortunately, representatives of Sobel’s estate would not grant me the necessary


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