When Jackson Pollock received the commission to create a mural for the entry to Peggy Guggenheim's new townhouse, she was eager to present in her home a symbol of support for the new American brand of art she was beginning to champion in her gallery. The choice of subject was to be his, and the size, immense—8' 1 1/4" x 19' 10", meant to cover an entire wall. At the suggestion of Guggenheim's friend and advisor Marcel Duchamp, it was painted on canvas, not the wall itself, so it would be portable. Pollock wrote of his commission that it was:
"...with no strings as to what or how I paint it. I am going to paint it in oil on canvas. They are giving me a show November 16 and I want to have the painting finished for the show. I've had to tear out the partition between the front and middle room to get the damned thing up. I have it stretched now. It looks pretty big, but exciting as all hell."
Pollock signed a gallery contract with Guggenheim in July 1943. The terms were $150 a month and a settlement at the end of the year if his paintings sold. He intended to have the mural done by the time for his show in November. However, as the time approached, the canvas for the mural was untouched. Guggenheim began to pressure him. Pollock spent weeks staring at the blank canvas, complaining to friends that he was "blocked," and seeming to become both obsessed and depressed. Finally, he painted the entire canvas in one frenetic burst of energy around New Year's Day of 1944—although the painting bears the date 1943. Pollock told a friend years afterward that he had had a vision:
"It was a stampede...[of] every animal in the American West, cows and horses and antelopes and buffaloes. Everything is charging across that goddamn surface."
Pollock's "vision" may have been a memory from his childhood in the American West. While there is some suggestion of figuration within Mural, its overall impact is that of abstraction and freedom from the restrictions imposed by figures.
A special installation in the National Gallery of Art’s East Building features Pollock's Mural, on loan from the University of Iowa Museum of Art. Also on view are paintings and works on paper by Pollock from the Gallery’s collection, including Number 1, 1950 (Lavender Mist) (1950). The installation marks the debut of Mural in Washington, DC.
Sources: National Gallery of Art, Washington
University of Iowa Museum of Art