Art/ Collection/ Art Object

White Flag

Jasper Johns (American, born Augusta, Georgia, 1930)
Encaustic, oil, newsprint, and charcoal on canvas
78 5/16 x 120 3/4 in. (198.9 x 306.7 cm)
Credit Line:
Purchase, Lila Acheson Wallace, Reba and Dave Williams, Stephen and Nan Swid, Roy R. and Marie S. Neuberger Foundation Inc., Louis and Bessie Adler Foundation Inc., Paula Cussi, Maria-Gaetana Matisse, The Barnett Newman Foundation, Jane and Robert Carroll, Eliot and Wilson Nolen, Mr. and Mrs. Derald H. Ruttenberg, Ruth and Seymour Klein Foundation Inc., Andrew N. Schiff, The Cowles Charitable Trust, The Merrill G. and Emita E. Hastings Foundation, John J. Roche, Molly and Walter Bareiss, Linda and Morton Janklow, Aaron I. Fleischman, and Linford L. Lougheed Gifts, and gifts from friends of the Museum; Kathryn E. Hurd, Denise and Andrew Saul, George A. Hearn, Arthur Hoppock Hearn, Joseph H. Hazen Foundation Purchase, and Cynthia Hazen Polsky and Leon B. Polsky Funds; Mayer Fund; Florene M. Schoenborn Bequest; Gifts of Professor and Mrs. Zevi Scharfstein and Himan Brown, and other gifts, bequests, and funds from various donors, by exchange, 1998
Accession Number:
Rights and Reproduction:
Art ©Jasper Johns/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 924
Born in Augusta, Georgia, in 1930 and raised in South Carolina, Jasper Johns moved in 1949 to New York City, where he enrolled in a commercial art school for two semesters. Back in New York, following his service in the army (ca. 1950–51), Johns became acquainted with artist Robert Rauschenberg, composer John Cage, and dancer Merce Cunningham. By the mid- to late 1950s Johns had already achieved fame with his paintings of targets, numerals, and American flags, and his work was exhibited in prominent museums and galleries in New York. "White Flag" of 1955, recently acquired by the Metropolitan from the artist's own collection, exemplifies Johns's early style, which engendered a wide range of subsequent art movements, among them Pop Art, Minimal Art, and Conceptual Art. During the 1950s and 1960s Johns frequently appropriated well-known images (such as targets, flags, and beer cans), elevating them to cultural icons. Throughout his oeuvre — which includes painting, prints, drawings, and sculpture — images are constantly recycled and combined in extensive series. In his later compositions of the 1970s, Johns filled the surface of his pictures with colorful cross-hatchings (suggested by the passing cars on an expressway); and since the 1980s he has incorporated images that have more autobiographical significance.

"White Flag" is the largest of his flag paintings and the first in which the flag is presented in monochrome. By draining most of the color from the flag but leaving subtle gradations in tone, the artist shifts our attention from the familiarity of the image to the way in which it is made. "White Flag" is painted on three separate panels: the stars, the seven upper stripes to the right of the stars, and the longer stripes below. Johns worked on each panel separately. After applying a ground of unbleached beeswax, he built up the stars, the negative areas around them, and the stripes with applications of collage — cut or torn pieces of newsprint, other papers, and bits of fabric. He dipped these into molten beeswax and adhered them to the surface. He then joined the three panels and overpainted them with more beeswax mixed with pigments, adding touches of white oil.

The fast-setting medium of encaustic enabled Johns to make each brushstroke distinct, while the forty-eight-star flag design — contiguous with the perimeters of the canvas — provided a structure for the richly varied surface, which ranges from translucent to opaque.

the artist (1955–98; sold through Leo Castelli Gallery, New York to MMA)

New York. Leo Castelli Gallery. "Jasper Johns: Paintings," January 20–February 8, 1958, no catalogue.

Museum of Modern Art, New York. "Sixteen Americans," December 16, 1959–February 17, 1960, unnumbered cat. (p. 25).

Paris. Galerie Marcelle Dupuis. "Jasper Johns," November 15–December 31, 1962, no catalogue.

Jewish Museum, New York. "Jasper Johns," February 16–April 12, 1964, no. 6 (as "Large White Flag", lent by the artist).

London. Whitechapel Gallery. "Jasper Johns: Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture, 1954–1964," December 2–31, 1964, no. 2.

Pasadena Art Museum. "Jasper Johns," January 26–February 28, 1965, no catalogue.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Three Centuries of American Painting," April 9–October 17, 1965, unnum. checklist (lent by the artist ).

National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo. "Two Decades of American Painting," October 14–November 27, 1967, no. 32 (lent by the artist).

National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto. "Two Decades of American Painting," December 10, 1966–January 27, 1967, no. 32.

New Delhi. Lalit Kala Gallery. "Two Decades of American Painting," March 28–April 16, 1967, no. 32.

Melbourne. National Gallery of Victoria. "Two Decades of American Painting," June 6–July 8, 1967, no. 32.

Sydney. Art Gallery of New South Wales. "Two Decades of American Painting," July 17–August 20, 1967, no. 32.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "New York Painting and Sculpture: 1940–1970," October 18, 1969–February 1, 1970, no. 131 (lent by the artist).

New York. Whitney Museum of American Art. "Jasper Johns," October 17, 1977–January 22, 1978, no. 8.

Museum of Modern Art, New York. "Jasper Johns: A Retrospective," October 20, 1996–January 21, 1997, no. 11.

Cologne. Museum Ludwig. "Jasper Johns: A Retrospective," March 8–June 1, 1997, no. 11.

Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo. "Jasper Johns: A Retrospective," June 28–August 17, 1997, no. 11.

Basel. Fondation Beyeler. "Jasper Johns: Loans from the Artist," October 21, 1997–February 15, 1998, no. 2.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Philippe de Montebello Years: Curators Celebrate Three Decades of Acquisitions," October 24, 2008–February 1, 2009, online catalogue.

R[obert]. R[osenblum]. "Jasper Johns." Arts (January 1958).

Dorothy Miller. Sixteen Americans. Exh. cat.New York, 1959, ill. p. 25.

John Cage and Alan R. Solomon. Jasper Johns. Exh. cat., Jewish Museum, New York. New York, 1964.

Henry Geldzahler. American Painting in the Twentieth Century. New York, 1965.

Max Kozloff. Jasper Johns. New York, 1969.

Leo Steinberg. Other Criteria: Confrontations with Twentieth-Century Art. New York, 1972, pp. 87–88.

Richard Field. "Jasper Johns' Flags." The Print Collector's Newsletter (July–August 1976).

Charles F. Stuckey. "Letters: 'Johns: Yet Waving'." Art in America (May–June 1976).

Michael Crichton. Jasper Johns. Exh. cat., Whitney Museum of American Art. New York, 1977.

Robert Hughes. "Pictures at an Inhibition." Time (October 31, 1977).

Carter Ratcliff. "New York Letter." Art International (December 1977).

Irving Sandler. The New York School: The Painters and Sculptors of the Fifties. New York, 1978.

Richard Francis. Jasper Johns. New York, 1984.

Roberta Bernstein. Jasper Johns' Paintings and Sculptures 1954–1974. Ann Arbor, 1985.

Georges Boudaille. Jasper Johns. New York, 1989.

Nan Rosenthal. The Drawings of Jasper Johns. Exh. cat., National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C. Washington DC, 1990.

Fred Orton. Figuring Jasper Johns. Cambridge, 1994.

David Sylvester. Jasper Johns Flags. Exh. cat., Anthony d'Offay Gallery. London, 1996.

Kirk Varnedoe. Jasper Johns: A Retrospective. Exh. cat., Museum of Modern Art, New York. New York, 1996.

Robert Hughes. The Shock of the New: The Hundred–Year History of Modern Art–Its Rise, Its Dazzling Achievement, Its Fall. New York, 1996, p. 337, colorpl. 226.

Carter Ratcliff. The Fate of a Gesture: Jackson Pollock and Postwar American Art. New York, 1996, pp. 131–32, relates that this painting was one of only two that remained unsold after Exh. New York 1958.

Robert Rosenblum in Jasper Johns: Loans from the Artist. Exh. cat., Fondation Beyeler. Basel, 1997, pp. 19, 30, 32, no. 2, ill. pp. 22–23 (color).

The Metropolitan Museum of Art Guide. New York, 2012, p. 424, ill. (color).

Calvin Tomkins. "Onward and Upward with the Arts: The Met and the Now." New Yorker (January 25, 2016), p. 33.

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