Winter Pool, 1959
Robert Rauschenberg (American, 1925–2008)
Combine painting: oil, paper, fabric, wood, metal, sandpaper, tape, printed paper, printed reproductions, handheld bellows, and found painting, on two canvases, with ladder; 89 1/2 x 58 1/2 x 4 in. (227.3 x 148.6 x 10.2 cm)
Jointly owned by Steven A. Cohen and The Metropolitan Museum of Art; Promised Gift of Steven A. Cohen, and Purchase, Lila Acheson Wallace Gift, Bequest of Gioconda King, by exchange, Anonymous Gift and Gift of Sylvia de Cuevas, by exchange, Janet Lee Kadesky Ruttenberg Fund, in memory of William S. Lieberman, Mayer Fund, Norman M. Leff Bequest, and George A. Hearn and Kathryn E. Hurd Funds, 2005 (2005.390)
Winter Pool represents a very important period in Robert Rauschenberg's work, the mid-1950s to the early 1960s, when he created bold objects that were a hybrid of painting and sculpture and a reinvention of collage. He called these works Combines. In Cubist collage, pasted papers add up to a readable image, such as a still life. With Combines, there is no narrative and the interpretation is left to the viewer.
The work consists of two separate canvases, each about the height of a man. A wooden ladder bridges the gap between them, and its legs extend to the floor, inviting the viewer to climb into the picture. The compositions of both canvases consist of syncopated grids formed by rectangles of paint and found objects: shirt cuffs, a handkerchief, poster letters, and photographic reproductions. Rauschenberg's virtuoso handling of paint both exploits and confronts the dominant painterly style of the early 1950s, Abstract Expressionism, and undermines the Renaissance notion that a painting shows an ideal world behind the canvas surface.