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The Creation of Man

ca. 1955
Origin: America, New York, New York
Unframed: 8 x 10in. (20.3 x 25.4cm) and Framed: 9 1/4 x 11 1/4 x 1/2in.
Oil on artist's canvasboard
Gift of Ellin and Baron Gordon
Acc. No. 2006.101.1
A painting that appears to show the curvature of a section of the earth, with a figure of a bearded man, outlined in white, shown reaching over the edge of the earth to support or mold a brown-skinned man. A naked white man and woman are shown to the right, with another white figure lying on the ground in front of them. A white woman sits off to the left.

The 3/4-inch gilded, molded frame with fluted outer and sight edges appears to postdate the painting's execution.
Label:Popular interest in American folk art began gathering momentum during the first half of the twentieth century. Most early advocates, students, and collectors focused on historical material, but many, including Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, took an added interest in the works of contemporary folk artists.

Gatto was "discovered" by another such enthusiast, Sterling Strauser (1907-1995) of Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania. Strauser, an artist himself, befriended and rigorously promoted a number of now well-known untutored, practicing artists, contacting Gatto directly in 1942 after seeing a picture of one of the painter's jungle scenes in a tabloid. When Gatto was featured in a detailed, illustrated Life magazine story six years later, his fame was ensured.

Gatto was a difficult, demanding egotist (and occasionally Strauser may have rued the connection). But he was also incredibly creative and versatile, scorning copywork and dredging subjects from memories of his own colorful background and his fertile imagination. Tropical jungles, circuses, underwater vistas, floral arrangements, current events, and outer space landscapes: all were grist for his mill. He also painted Biblical allegories. This moving depiction of the creation of humankind interprets God as a ghostly-white but decidedly benevolent figure, whose vast reach is emphasized by the curvature of the earth.
Provenance:The Gordons, AARFAM's donors, purchased this painting from the Fleischer Gallery, Philadelphia, Pa., in 1989; previous ownership is undocumented.
Inscription(s):Inscribed in upright script in black paint at lower left on the face of the painting is: "Victor Joseph Gatto."
Handwritten in black ink onto a pre-printed form label on the back of the painting is (both freehand and pre-printed form wording being given here together): "Artist: Joseph Victor [sic] Gatto/Title: Creation of Man/Size: 8" x 10"/Medium: Oil on canvas board/Date: mid 1950's/Cur. retail price: 825 --/Stock #: 117 FA".
One side frame member is inscribed in pencil on the back: "1185 [B?]".
The back of the canvasboard bears a printed advertisement combining an image with text, most of the lettering reading: "'NEWTON'/EXTRA QUALITY COTTON/CANVAS BOARDS/Size: 8" x 10"/Winsor + Newton/Inc./'WILTON' BRUSHES'". The wording appears alongside an image of a tube of paint labeled, in part, "Burnt Sienna".