Leon Golub

(American, 1922-2004)

Abstract Expressionist Oil Painting of Delacroix Greece on the Ruins of Missolonghi

Leon Golub 1959 Abstract Delacroix Oil Painting

Oil on Canvas
35 3/4 x 25
Signed (lower right)
Leon Golub and tilted "DX" and dated '59 on reverse

New Notes

I purchased what I believe to be an important original painting by abstract expressionist Leon Golub.

It’s worth noting – Byrd is correct. In this instance he did not paint a “woman”. Rather, he created his abstract interpretation of Delacroix’s piece…which happened to use a woman to personify the horror of men – a central theme to Golub’s future works.


Following is an analysis regarding a unique artwork that appears to be an abstract representation after Eugene Delacroix’s “Greece Expiring on the Ruins of Missolonghi” by Leon Golub from 1959.

It wasn't until the 1980s that painter Leon Golub, born in Chicago in 1921, achieved fame with his vigorous pictures of death squads, torturers, student riots and mercenaries. As an artist unafraid to tackle political themes, to criticize U.S. policies at home and abroad, Golub merits attention. Regrettably, he is not well served by this pretentious, verbose critique-cum-personality profile. Marzorati, an editor of Harper's , treats his own gradual discovery of Golub's art and life as a central theme, as well as the book's organizing principle; the device distracts from his occasional insights. He places Golub in a continuum of "liberal artists" from Goya onward who confront cruelty. A running interview with Golub is the book's saving grace. Illustrations not seen by PW. Copyright 1990 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

The paint color
The method of application
The very unique application of paint
Appropriate age of paints & canvas
Golub wasn’t faked at that time
The subject
The highly distinctive method of paint application and coloring is consistent with Golub’s works from this period, the corresponding age and condition of the original canvas and stretchers
plus the use of a classical subject known to be available and appealing to Golub in France during 1959 make this assumption seem especially valid.

Equally important is the incredible skill associated with all the representations in this piece.

The use of a woman…appears wrong at first glance.
However…women were used…
Eyes cast away


The figuration

Art Fact Sheet

Appears to be both lacquer and oil on canvas

Size: 35 ¾ x 25 ¼

Signed & Titled:
L/R “Golub” in a manner consistent with his recognized signature (See example at right). Also, there appears to be additional lettering above this signature consistent with the inscription on the reverse of the canvas (‘DX…’59).

Dated & Titled:
’59 on reverse plus a notation of “DX”

Artwork was first acquired at an estate sale in Queens, New York in 2008.

Condition: Paint loss around some edges: difficult to tell if all of this is from handling damage or the artist’s hand as he often scraped & sometimes left bare various parts of his paintings. No signs of any repairs or in-painting under black light.

Leon Golub:
Distinct Method of Painting

Perhaps the most noted aspect of Golub’s artworks was his distinctive application of paint. Golub likened his process to that of a sculptor – chipping away from a resistant stone, then rebuilding, expanding, repairing, and creating – until the desired image was achieved. It is because of this technique and his ties to classicism that Golub’s works appear as aged historical perspectives – even in the face of timely events.

“As a young painter after the Second World War…Golub did not go the route of abstraction, although his early work shared some of the techniques and formal concerns of the Abstract Expressionists. Like Pollock, he took to pouring paint onto unstretched canvas on the ground, and then scraped it to achieve a distressed surface that mimics the appearance of ancient sculpture: broken, fragmented, pock-marked, eroded.”

“An important aspect of Golub’s painting from this period is the completely encrusted and corroded surface that configures the form as a scarred and wounded body. These fissured surfaces resulted in part from Golub pressing two canvases together white the paint was still in a fluid state – at the time the medium was lacquer, paint and solvent – and, after leaving them in this position for several hours, peeling them apart and then further degrading the image with solvent and scraping.”

“He depicted images of colossal nude men engaged in inexplicable, timeless, ritualized struggle. These monumental figures continuously emerge from and dissolve into the surface of the paint, and bespeak a spirit of human resistance in the face of overwhelming natural forces. Golub was interested in the eternal, the quintessentially human. Hence also his frequent depiction of the sphinx, since it poses the questions: what is it to be man, what is it to be beast?

Golub & Delacroix

Leon Golub lived in France from 1959 to 1964. It was during this time that Golub became heavily influenced by classical art as a basis for the representation of war – and the seemingly endless violence on the part of man. Golub had always been a student of historical representation in his artworks and “Golub’s penchant for classical models is an important signature”. However, it was during this time in France – against the backdrop of the Algerian War – that Golub merged these historical values into his own sense of “battle art”.

Echo’s of the Real, Golub’s friend & biographer Jon Bird explains: “In particular, the tradition of French history painting was to become a singular reference for Golub’s own project of historical narration…in Baroque allegories and in the French Romanticism – Delacroix’s battle and hunt scenes and Géricault’s Raft of the Medusa”. It was this specific reference from Bird to the influences of Delacroix upon Golub that led to the deduction that the DX notation on the reverse of this artwork was in reference to a Delacroix artwork.

Did Golub do another Delacroix inspired piece?

Delacroix’s Greece Expiring was that artist’s second work in support of the Greeks in their war for independence – this time referring to the capture of Missolonghi by Turkish forces in 1825. “With a restraint of palette appropriate to the allegory, Greece Expiring on the Ruins of Missolonghi displays a woman in Greek costume with her breast bared, arms half-raised in an imploring gesture before the horrible scene: the suicide of the Greeks, who chose to kill themselves and destroy their city rather than surrender to the Turks. A hand is seen at the bottom, the body having being crushed by rubble. The whole picture serves as a monument to the people of Missolonghi and to the idea of freedom against tyrannical rule.”

The essence of the female subject’s role in this artwork: as both the victim & symbol of tyranny from men and their wars might explain why it piqued Golub’s interest.

It should be noted that the existence of this newfound painting from 1959 is in direct conflict to a reference by Jon Bird regarding Golub’s Birth paintings of 1956-57: “These images are amongst the few representations of the female form in Golub’s oeuvre (another does not occur until the central tortured female victim on interrogation II 1981…) However, in Leon Golub and Nancy Spero: War & Memory – Golub is specifically quoted as saying: “Images of women have played a very small role. There were birth paintings and several other paintings early on and throughout the years. Women have appeared in a male world in which men fight these battles and assume control. Always assuming control.”
Artwork Analysis

Key Observations

  1. 1. The Pose: This is the most obvious indicator of the representation of Delacroix’s Greece Expiring…the gesture of the open arms in response to the horror of mass suicide.
  2. 2. The Stone: Its position & coloring are totally consistent with Delacroix’s piece.
  3. 3. The Knee: Its bent position – resting on the stone is consistent with Delacroix.
  4. 4. The Blue Coat: The royal blue coloring…rather unique to Golub’s color palette at that time seems a key representation of the lady’s coat.
  5. 5. The Veil: The heavier encrustation & ivory coloring plus the hair length are consistent. (See close-up photo on page 10)
  6. 6. The Blood Splattered Loose Stone:
  7. 7. The Dark “Shading”:
  8. 8. Dead Soldier’s Arm: Show side-by-side lower photo comparisons to illuminate the hand. I’m assuming the dark “line” beginning under the right leg / ankle represents the dead arm of the soldier.
  9. 9. The Dead Soldier’s Arm: I’m assuming the dark “line” beginning under the right leg / ankle represents the dead arm of the soldier.
  10. 10. The Turkish Soldier: There appears to be an abstracted human form in the upper right corner / area which might represent the original Turkish soldier with a spear – from the Delacroix painting.

The Blue Paint…where / what other painting did he use this color?

The eyes & face…what other piece were they cast-away?

The additional lettering by the signature…examine more closely with blacklight…was the Golub signature added…over another?
But then…59 / DX / the same basic coloring?

Additional Observations

  • The unique color scheme of yellows, reds & oranges is consistent with other pieces from this period of Golub’s work. The photo to the right is a painting from 1959 included at Artnet.com in its comprehensive analysis of Golub’s works. The 1958 artwork on the left is from a photo included in Echo’s of the Real.
    • Show yellow & other one
    • + golub beside it
  • Eyes turned away…during this phase of Golub’s creation, the eyes of his male subjects are piercing…always forward. Quote him on women. Thus, makes sense he would have turned her away from the viewer.
However, in Leon Golub and Nancy Spero: War & Memory – Golub is specifically quoted as saying: “Images of women have played a very small role. There were birth paintings and several other paintings early on and throughout the years. Women have appeared in a male world in which men fight these battles and assume control. Always assuming control.”
  • Application of paint…describe from books
  • Check…both acrylic & enamel…he used both at that time?
  • Appropriate aging
    • In 59…Golub wasn’t that important…nobody would copy him…same paint color + subject he admired ++
  • Stretchers the same + side nails? Hunter visit
  • DX & 59…same written style?

  • The size of this painting, although smaller – is to the exact scale of the Delacroix painting: This Golub piece measures 90.5 x 64 cm…the Delacroix measures 208 x 147cm.
  • Uniquely, when compared to his paintings of male subjects during this same period – the subject’s eyes are not cast forward upon the viewer. This could be a repercussion of the subject being a woman.

  • The Delacroix “signature”: Delacroix signed his original painting on the edge of stone where the lady’s right foot is situated. You’ll note that the distinctive “E” (Eugene) and abbreviated first-name in Delacroix’s signature style appears to be duplicated in cursive under the lady’s right foot / on the stone – in this abstract representation. There also appears to be something else written in cursive to the left of the “E-signature” – it remains undecipherable at this time.
  • Additionally, there appears to be a “27” (with a European-styled half slash through the numeral seven) above that Delacroix signature – which would represent the date which Delacroix’s work completed (1827).
  • Hand of a master – this work is very complex. It took several months of viewing before I caught all its nuances

Remaining Challenges

The Unknown “Barrier”: The railing / barrier imagery positioned in front of the woman is obviously a very important part of this abstract representation. Unfortunately, I’m still puzzled as to exactly what it represents aside from the rocky ledge upon which she’s standing.

  • There is a numeral “5” carved into the paint near the bottom-middle of this painting beneath the rendition of Delacroix’s signature. I’m not certain if this notation refers in some manner to the Delacroix original or if it was something unique to Leon Golub: perhaps it was first planned as a sequence of works – as with the Burnt Man series of 1960. It could also relate to the heart-shape found at Golub’s signature.


Compare his interpretation in other pieces


Unknown “Shape” at Center of Signature:
The signature was applied over top of what appears as a dark “spot” from the earlier painting layers. Uniquely, this shape appears in the form of a “heart” – which raises the question of if this painting was gifted to a loved-one or perhaps even a secret love “interest”. The fact this artwork is not represented in prior publications about Golub’s works – given its potential importance, makes the latter possibility seem possible – if it is in fact a “heart” representation. It’s also a possibility that Golub developed a loving interest in the woman depicted in the Delacroix painting.

The heart-shape found at the center of the Golub signature remains especially interesting. Considering the attention to various details in this piece, it seems highly unlikely that Golub would’ve
accidentally signed his name in the exact location where it would be partially blocked-out by a dark colored “heart shape”. If this painting was produced for a romantic interest, it would certainly help explain why such an important work could have gone undetected by Golub-historians all of these years. It’s also possible that Golub developed a loving affinity for the Greek-styled woman in the Delacroix painting.

The Caulfield Parallel

Interestingly, Leon Golub wasn’t the only noted contemporary artist to be inspired by this particular Delacroix. Patrick Caulfield created a career-defining piece of this same artwork in 1963.

“In his final year at the Royal College of Art, Caulfield was set the task of making a transcription from a famous
painting. He chose Delacroix’s Greece Expiring on the Ruins of Missolonghi 1827, a work he knew only from a black-and-white reproduction. Caulfield translated the painting in a hard-edge style, inventing the colours to suggest the propagandist tone of a political poster.”

Patrick Caulfield 1963
Tate Collection

It’s interesting to note some of the similarities between the Golub & Caulfield representations:
  1. 1. Both used extensive “red” coloring upon the hands & face of the woman as a symbolic representation of the abuse of power / horror.
  2. 2. The shape & light of the moon in the upper corner stands out more distinctly when you examine these two modern representations side-by-side.
  3. 3. In the Golub work, it seems easier to notice the ivory-colored turban & sash-belt of the abstracted Turkish soldier when it’s presented next to the Caulfield work.
Evolutionary Thumbnails

I believe this painting to be an authentic abstract representation after Eugene Delacroix’s “Greece Expiring on the Ruins of Missolonghi” by Leon Golub.

Burnt Man 1953-1954
Siamese Sphinx 1954
Two Heads 1954
Father and Son 1955
Parturition 1955
The Boar Hunt 1955







Birth IV 1956
Classical Dream 1956
The Etruscan Sphinx 1956



Colossal Heads I 1959


Head VIII 1959


Fallen Warrior (Burnt Man) 1960


Top of Form
Bottom of Form


Torso I 1960


Colossal Figure 1961


Combat I 1962

Top of Form
Bottom of Form

Falling Youth (La Chute) 1962
Combat III 1963-1970
Combat V (cut in 1970) 1963
Horse's Head 1963





Top of Form
Bottom of Form

Wounded Warrior 1968
Burnt Man 1969
Napalm II 1969
Napalm III 1969
Running Man 1969-1970
Napalm Shield IV 1972







I believe this painting to be an authentic abstract representation after Eugene Delacroix’s “Greece Expiring on the Ruins of Missolonghi” by Leon Golub.

The highly distinctive method of paint application and coloring is consistent with Golub’s works from this period, the corresponding age and condition of the original canvas and stretchers plus the use of a classical subject known to be available and appealing to Golub in France during 1959 make this assumption seem especially valid.

“Leon Golub is best known for paintings done in the 1970's and 80's: huge, engulfing canvases of Vietnam war scenes, riots, interrogations, death squads, racial face-offs and other grim tableaus in which power confronts the powerless. Men (they are mostly men; women play a minor role in Mr. Golub's art) shoot, club, beat, taunt, torture, kill, suffer and die in vivid accounts that make up in jarring action what they lack in painterly finesse”.

Potential Importance

Golub’s works are broken into five distinct phases: Classical Power, Complications of Power, Portraits of Power, Covert Power and Victims of Power. This painting seems important because it serves as an early bridge between two of Golub’s major phases of artistic expression: that of Classical Power and Victims of Power.

Discuss classical pieces that also did this: fallen youth?
First burning man…in a classical head from 1959?

Major transition piece

That this link is accomplished by a very rare female theme makes it especially compelling. Also, the fact this piece was painted four years
earlier than the Patrick Caulfield Pop-art version of 1963 – makes for potentially interesting comparisons from an art history perspective.

Use of a woman

Finally, an October 8, 2001 article in
Newsweek entitled: “Turning Tragedy into Art”, columnist Peter Plagens mentions Golub is the primary candidate to make artistic sense of the 9/11 catastrophe. Plagens specifically references The Massacre at Chios – Delacroix’s preceding artwork to Greece Expiring – as a prime example of such symbolic expression. Golub never painted such a masterwork & died a few years later on August 8, 2004. This work: dated forty-two years earlier – is perhaps the closest representation we’ll ever see in that regard from Leon Golub.

This work needs a firsthand examination by an expert on Golub’s work to confirm these assumptions.

Greensboro Museum

Among those artists painting the figure in the 1960s, Leon Golub was one who used it most clearly in response to the political turmoil of the era. Golub responded to the war, as well as domestic chaos, by rendering large, heroic figures in thick, harsh lines to describe the violence inscribed on their bodies: he created a series of figures wounded by napalm, for example. In his paintings, it is not always clear who the victors or the vanquished are, but a sense of pain and struggle is conveyed. The artist reminds us that art may function as social commentary and that its contemplation may sway political opinion and be a powerful stimulus for political action. Well known as an active speaker and teacher, Golub taught at Rutgers for over twenty years, and he has had over sixty museum exhibitions.

Head I 1961, thick smears of red, white, blue, and brown paint suggest a scarred human face or a colossal carved head worn down by time and weather. Golub was one of the "monster roster" of Chicago painters whose confrontational images pushed the comfort zone of gallery goers. He created his flayed bodies and heads with crusts of pigment that he flattened or shaved down with a meat cleaver.
Unlike the abstract expressionists who dominated American art in the 1950s, Golub remained a figural painter who captured the violent and contradictory impulses in human nature. When he painted
Head I 1961, the paranoia and brinksmanship of the Cold War dominated American life, but critics often glossed over the political message in Golub's work, choosing instead to compare his tormented figures with the warring gods of classical sculpture.
Exhibition Label, Smithsonian American Art Museum, 2006
Hunter Museum
Leon Golub's
Head is part of a series that reflects mankind tormented by repression. He called these "monster heads" and directly linked some to the conflict in Vietnam and other violent events. He also drew inspiration from ancient Greek sculptures. To create the raw canvas surface, Golub layered the paint with the brush and then scraped it off with a meat cleaver.
UK Museum
Born in Chicago, American painter Leon Golub earned a B.A. in Art History from the University of Chicago. After World War II, during which time he served in the United States Army, Golub studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, from which he received a B.F.A. in 1949 and an M.F.A. in 1950. His earliest paintings focused on the Holocaust and the atomic bombings at Hiroshima and Nagasaki; these works reflect his experiences during the War and embody his dedication to depicting the subject of political power and its abuses. In an era dominated by the purist, ‘art for art’s sake’ rigor of Abstract Expressionism, Golub chose instead to focus on the human form. Inspired by the flawed grandeur of antique art, he began a series of colossal heads, including Columnar Head. Distant and unfeeling, these larger than life heads have blank eyes that endlessly stare over and beyond—and never at—the viewer.
Some of his best-known later works include his Gigantomachy series of 1965-68, which includes classicized nude figures entangled in ferocious battle, his Vietnam series of 1972-74, and Mercenaries, Interrogations, and Riots, three series that further examine victims and their victimizers. Golub’s disjointed and agonized figures are mirrored in the brutal rawness of his painted surfaces—pitted, scraped, and rough with thick patches of paint.

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