Featured Acquisition: The Pyramid Confronts The Sea

John Stephan (1906-1995)

The Pyramid Confronts The Sea, 1949

Oil on masonite

36 x 44 inches

Signed and dated lower left


Estate of the Artist

Exhibition History: 

“The Tiger’s Eye: The Art of a Magazine,” Yale University Art Gallery, January 29 – March 30 2002


“The Tiger’s Eye: The Art of a Magazine,”  accompanying book to the above exhibition, Pamela Franks, Yale University Press,  page 56 

The Tiger’s Eye, No. 7, March 15, 1949, page 33

John Walter Stephan (1906–1995) was born in Maywood, Illinois.  In 1917 he attended the University of Illinois and later the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC). Subsequent SAIC, he worked as an art instructor at Jane Addams Hull House in Chicago and later was a draftsman at Western Electric.

He painted urban landscapes and created mosaics for a number of buildings in the Chicago area under the auspices of the Work Projects Administration through the 1930s.  

Stephan truly came of age as an artist after World War II. With his first wife Ruth Walgreen Stephan, he moved to New York City, where he developed his work and had solo exhibitions at the Betty Parsons Gallery, the Dayton Art Institute in Ohio and the Newport Art Museum in Rhode Island.

An important figure in the development of Abstract Expressionism, he counted among his close associates Clyfford Still, Mark Rothko, and Barnett Newman. 

With  his wife (and poet) Ruth Stephan, he published “The Tiger’s Eye”, an influential “little magazine” that chronicled the creative ferment of the period. Inspired by William Blake’s “Tyger,” the title symbolized the editors’ faith in the power of creative vision, as did John Stephan’s design for the cover which prominently features an abstracted eye. 

The publication – which ran quarterly from October 1947 to  October 1949, with a total of nine issues – featured European and American Surrealists, members of the Latin American avant garde, and young American painters soon to become known as Abstract Expressionists. The artists, among them Max Ernst, Alberto Giacometti, Adolph Gottlieb, Stanley William Hayter, André Masson, Pablo Picasso, Mark Rothko, Anne Ryan, Kay Sage, Kurt Seligmann, Rufino Tamayo, and Mark Tobey, as well as art editor and co-publisher John Stephan himself, range across the cultural forefront of the post-war period.

This piece was included in the seventh issue, published on March 15, 1949, appearing on page 33. 

Stephan’s work is in the collections of the Smithsonian Museum of American Art, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, the Cincinnati Art Museum, Yale University Art Gallery, Loyola University in Chicago and numerous other institutions.