Schnabel rose to prominence along with other neo­expressionists who used figurative content and appropriation to create a multitude of layered images taken from history, myths, and contemporary culture. Reviving religious and cultural archetypes, Schnabel uses an image from the Cabala, a system of interpretation of the Hebrew scriptures dating back to the thirteenth century. He incorporates imagery from both the Old and New Testaments, showing a man seated at a table on which sits an alembic and a torah. In a crystal vial, there seems to be a reflection of Saint John the Divine writing his Book of Revelation. Schnabel's unorthodox use of velvet for the background has historical connections with royalty and an association with kitsch-oriented souvenir pictures, especially black velvet canvases. His loose, streaked brushstrokes recall the gesture and emotion of the Abstract Expressionists in the 1950s, signaling a return to expression in both content and aesthetics.
Artist Julian Schnabel, American, born 1951
  • Cabalistic Painting
Date 1983
Medium oil on velvet
Dimensions Overall: 108 × 80 × 2 1/8 inches (274.3 × 203.2 × 5.4 cm)
Credit Line Founders Society Purchase, W. Hawkins Ferry Fund
Accession Number 1992.16
Department Contemporary Art after 1950
Not On View
Signed Signed, on the back: Julian Schnabel
the artist.
Collection of Roger Davidson (Toronto, Ontario, Canada);
Locksley Shea Gallery;
1992-present, purchase by the Detroit Institute of Arts (Detroit, Michigan, USA)
Selections from the Roger and Myra Davidson Collection. Exh. cat., Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, 1987, p.63 (ill.).