Will the Real Janet Sobel Please Stand Up?

  1. in an all-over pattern, it is not surprising that Milky Way, which quite closely resembles Music, recommended itself to [William] Rubin for acquisition.”15 Which of Sobel’s paintings is Levin describing? Although the misnamed color reproduction of Milky Way (plate 5 in Levin’s WAJ article) looks like Sobel painted the entire work with a glaze of brown gravy, the reproduction of the painting provided by Art Resource shows Sobel’s much more piquant, light-filled approach to surface and form. In Art Resource’s reproduction, barely connected pink, pink gold, whitened blue, and delicate black webs and arabesques enliven the violet, deep red, brown, and varying blue grounds beneath them, and there is a definite sense that the colored forms differ in their depth and distance from one another.

  2.           Although both paintings are abstract, the surface of the real Music is much more integrated and uniform than is Milky Way’s, and it is hard to see a true resemblance between them. Music’s patterns of light and dark, represented by color areas similar in shape and size, are distributed almost equally across the entire painting. With the exception of the narrow piece of green ground that indicates a deeper space in its upper left, the painting seems to exist in a single plane, in which weaving, flat strands and delicate clusters of yellow and green light embroider a blackened field. 

  3.          Turning now to the numerous distortions and errors in previous accounts of Sobel’s life story, we find that in the sentences opening her WAJ article, Gail Levin writes, “The feminist movement was already underway, when, in 1968, William Rubin, a curator at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) traveled to Plainfield, New Jersey, to meet Janet Sobel (1894-1968),”16 who “by then was bedridden and near death....”17 Here Levin insists, “Although [Clement] Greenberg claimed in 1955 that Sobel was still ‘a housewife living in Brooklyn,’ she had long since relocated and her forwarding address might well have been unknown.”18 In fact, however, Gary Snyder had given me a photocopy of a letter written to Janet Sobel on November 18, 1947, by Mark Rothko (see Documents page).  Rothko was writing to Sobel on Peggy Guggenheim’s behalf, asking Sobel


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All texts copyright © Libby Seaberg, 2009