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The Vanguard: Janet Sobel

on January 15, 2024

Janet Sobel played a significant role in the development of Abstract Expressionism, yet her contributions have often been overshadowed by the male-dominated narrative of the movement. An exploration of Sobel's critical reception sheds light on the complex dynamics that shaped the assessment of her work and her place in modern art history.

Abstract Expressionism artist Janet Sobel

By Janet Sobel.

Sobel's work was initially categorized as "primitive," a label that allowed her to be accepted within the art world but that also, arguably, restricted her artistic development. Influential figures such as critic Clement Greenberg and collector Sidney Janis played pivotal roles in shaping Sobel's artistic narrative. Greenberg's strategic edits to his writings and his appraisal of Sobel's work as a forerunner of Abstract Expressionism underscore the ambivalence of her reception.

Sobel's influence on Jackson Pollock is evident in Greenberg's account of Pollock's admiration for Sobel's work, particularly her abstract paintings with "all-over" patterns that she painted in the early 1940s, which look a lot like Pollock's later drip paintings (see paintings above and below). Despite Greenberg's attempt to qualify Sobel's significance by labeling her as "primitive" and "housewife," her impact on Pollock's artistic development is undeniable.

Abstract Expressionism artist Janet Sobel

By Janet Sobel.

The inclusion of Sobel in accounts of Pollock's development highlights her significant contributions to Abstract Expressionism and challenges the gendered and cultural biases that influenced her reception in the postwar art world. Not just in relation to Pollock, Sobel's legacy as a pioneering artist continues to be reevaluated, revealing her pivotal role in the Abstract Expressionist movement.

Abstract Expressionism artist Janet Sobel By Janet Sobel.


Pete Stein
Founder, Galerie Stein

Galerie Stein will be presenting several contemporary Abstract Expressionist artists both virtually at and in our gallery in Montreal in 2024.
Contact: Pete Stein at