During the 1950s and 1960s Johns frequently appropriated well-known images such as targets, maps, and flags—in his words, "things the mind already knows." White Flag is part of Johns’s famous flag series, which he began in 1954. In this rendering, he drains this iconic subject of its characteristic red, white, and blue coloration, leaving it to loom, ghostlike. The painting’s bleached appearance and composite, layered form make the familiar image strange. By challenging our understanding of what constitutes a national symbol and complicating our relationship to this highly charged American image, it speaks powerfully, if ambiguously, to the issue of national identity.
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Artist:Jasper Johns (American, born Augusta, Georgia, 1930)
Medium:Encaustic, oil, newsprint, and charcoal on canvas
Dimensions:78 5/16 in. × 10 ft. 3/4 in. (198.9 × 306.7 cm)
Credit Line:Purchase, Lila Acheson Wallace, Reba and Dave Williams, Stephen and Nan Swid, Roy R. and Marie S. Neuberger Foundation Inc., Louis and Bessie Adler Foundation Inc., Paula Cussi, Maria-Gaetana Matisse, The Barnett Newman Foundation, Jane and Robert Carroll, Eliot and Wilson Nolen, Mr. and Mrs. Derald H. Ruttenberg, Ruth and Seymour Klein Foundation Inc., Andrew N. Schiff, The Cowles Charitable Trust, The Merrill G. and Emita E. Hastings Foundation, John J. Roche, Molly and Walter Bareiss, Linda and Morton Janklow, Aaron I. Fleischman, and Linford L. Lougheed Gifts, and gifts from friends of the Museum; Kathryn E. Hurd, Denise and Andrew Saul, George A. Hearn, Arthur Hoppock Hearn, Joseph H. Hazen Foundation Purchase, and Cynthia Hazen Polsky and Leon B. Polsky Funds; Mayer Fund; Florene M. Schoenborn Bequest; Gifts of Professor and Mrs. Zevi Scharfstein and Himan Brown, and other gifts, bequests, and funds from various donors, by exchange, 1998
the artist (1955–98; on longterm loan to Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, December 1972–August 1985; on longterm loan to Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Düsseldorf, September 1985–October 1991; on longterm loan to National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., October 1991–September 1996; sold through Leo Castelli Gallery, New York to MMA)
New York. Leo Castelli Gallery. "Jasper Johns: Paintings," January 20–February 8, 1958, no catalogue?
Museum of Modern Art, New York. "Sixteen Americans," December 16, 1959–February 17, 1960, unnumbered cat. (p. 25; as "Large White Flag," lent by the artist).
Moderna Museet, Stockholm. "4 Amerikanare: Jasper Johns, Alfred Leslie, Robert Rauschenberg, Richard Stankiewicz," March 17–May 6, 1962, no. 1 (as "The Large White Flag").
Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam. "4 Amerikanen: Jasper Johns, Alfred Leslie, Robert Rauschenberg, Richard Stankiewicz," May 18–June 18, 1962, not in catalogue.
Kunsthalle Bern. "4 Amerikaner: Jasper Johns, Alfred Leslie, Robert Rauschenberg, Richard Stankiewicz," July 7–September 2, 1962, not in catalogue.
Paris. Galerie Marcelle Dupuis. "Jasper Johns," November 15–December 31, 1962, no catalogue.
Jewish Museum, New York. "Jasper Johns," February 16–April 12, 1964, no. 6 (as "Large White Flag", lent by the artist).
London. Whitechapel Gallery. "Jasper Johns: Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture, 1954–1964," December 2–31, 1964, no. 2 (as "Large White Flag," lent by the artist).
Pasadena Art Museum. "Jasper Johns," January 26–February 28, 1965, no catalogue.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Three Centuries of American Painting," April 9–October 17, 1965, unnum. checklist (lent by the artist).
National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo. "Two Decades of American Painting," October 15–November 27, 1966, unnumbered cat. (p. 67; lent by the artist).
National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto. "Two Decades of American Painting," December 10, 1966–January 22, 1967, unnumbered cat.
New Delhi. Lalit Kala Gallery. "Two Decades of American Painting," March 28–April 16, 1967, no. 32.
Melbourne. National Gallery of Victoria. "Two Decades of American Painting," June 6–July 9, 1967, no. 32 (lent by the artist).
Sydney. Art Gallery of New South Wales. "Two Decades of American Painting," July 26–August 20, 1967, no. 32.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "New York Painting and Sculpture: 1940–1970," October 18, 1969–February 8, 1970, no. 131 (lent by the artist).
New York. Whitney Museum of American Art. "Jasper Johns," October 17, 1977–January 22, 1978, no. 3 (lent by the artist).
Museum of Modern Art, New York. "Jasper Johns: A Retrospective," October 20, 1996–January 21, 1997, no. 11 (lent by the artist).
Cologne. Museum Ludwig. "Jasper Johns: Retrospektive," March 8–June 1, 1997, no. 12 (lent by the artist).
Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo. "Jasper Johns: A Retrospective," June 28–August 17, 1997, no. 011 (lent by the artist).
Basel. Fondation Beyeler. "Jasper Johns: Werke aus dem Besitz des Künsterls / Loans from the Artist," October 21, 1997–February 15, 1998, no. 2.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Philippe de Montebello Years: Curators Celebrate Three Decades of Acquisitions," October 24, 2008–February 1, 2009, online catalogue.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art [The Met Breuer]. "Home Is a Foreign Place: Recent Acquisitions in Context," April 9, 2019–March 12, 2020 [intended closing date June 21, 2020], no catalogue.
New York. Whitney Museum of American Art. "Jasper Johns: Mind/Mirror," September 29, 2021–February 13, 2022, no. 4 ("Flags and Maps" section).
R[obert]. R[osenblum]. "Jasper Johns." Arts 32 (January 1958), pp. 54–55.
S[tuart]. P[reston]. "Haseltine Views of Italy at Cooper Union." New York Times (January 25, 1958), p. 15, mentions "a number of pictures" of the American flag in Exh. New York 1958.
John Ashbery. "American Art Shows Flood Paris." New York Herald Tribune (Paris) (November 21, 1962), p. 6.
Leo Steinberg. Jasper Johns. New York, 1963, pp. 18, 42, fig. 7, calls it "The Large White Flag".
John Russell. "How to Hang Out the Flag." Sunday Times (London) (December 6, 1964), p. 25.
Irving Sandler. "In the Art Galleries." New York Post Magazine (March 1, 1964), p. 14.
Alan R. Solomon inJasper Johns. Exh. cat., Jewish Museum. New York, 1964, pp. 8, 10, 13, 27, no. 6, ill. n.p.
Henry Geldzahler. American Painting in the Twentieth Century. New York, 1965, pp. 204–5, ill., calls it "White Flag" in the caption and "Large White Flag" in the text.
Joseph Lelyveld. "Modern U.S. Art Stirs New Delhi: New York School, Pop and Op Get Mixed Reactions." New York Times (April 10, 1967), p. 32.
Max Kozloff. Jasper Johns. New York, , pp. 16–18, colorpl. 10.
Leo Steinberg. Other Criteria: Confrontations with Twentieth-Century Art. New York, 1972, p. 19, fig. 4.
Alan Shestack. "Director's Report for 1972." Yale University Art Gallery Bulletin 34 (June 1973), p. 2, fig. 3.
Richard S. Field. "Jasper Johns' Flags." Print Collector's Newsletter 7 (July–August 1976), pp. 69–73, 76, ill. (color).
Robert Hughes. "Art: Pictures at an Inhibition: Jasper Johns' New York Retrospective." Time 110 (October 31, 1977), p. 84.
Carter Ratcliff. "New York Letter." Art International (December 1977).
John Russell. "Art: Jasper Johns Packs Them In." New York Times (October 21, 1977), p. 73.
Theodore E. Stebbins, Jr. "Collecting American Art for Yale, 1968–1976: A Curatorial Report." Yale University Art Gallery Bulletin 36 (Spring 1977), p. 14, ill.
Barbara Rose. "The Sixties." American Painting from the Colonial Period to the Present. 2nd ed. (1st ed., 1969). New York, 1977, ill. p. 229.
David Sweet. "Meaning, Value and the Tradition of Paintedness." Artscribe no. 7 (July 1977), pp. 19–22, ill., calls it "Large White Flag".
Janet Hobhouse. "Jasper Johns: The Passionless Subject Passionately Painted." Art News 76 (December 1977), p. 47.
Irving Sandler. The New York School: The Painters and Sculptors of the Fifties. New York, 1978, p. 191.
Alan Shestack. "Jasper Johns: Reflections." Print Collector's Newsletter 8 (January–February 1978), p. 173, fig. 1 (color).
Richard Francis. Jasper Johns. New York, 1984, p. 28, colorpl. 18.
Roberta Bernstein. Jasper Johns' Paintings and Sculptures 1954–1974: "The Changing Focus of the Eye". Ann Arbor, 1985, pp. 9–11, 43, 73, 141, 149, 219 n. 55.
Deborah Solomon. "The Unflagging Artistry of Jasper Johns." New York Times (June 19, 1988), p. SM63.
Alfred Pacquement. Frank Stella. Paris, 1988, pp. 20, 186, ill.
Georges Boudaille. Jasper Johns. New York, 1989, pp. 10, 12, 126, fig. 5 (color).
Jean-Emile Verdier. "Le Modèle du moulage dans la fabrication de l'oeuvre de Jasper Johns." Artstudio no. 12 (Spring 1989), pp. 58, 63–64, 66–67, ill. p. 61 (color).
Jean-Pierre Naugrette. "La peau de la peinture: 'Three Flags' de Jasper Johns." Revue française d’études américaines no. 46 (November 1990), pp. 247–48.
Philip Fisher. "Jasper Johns: Strategies for Making and Effacing Art." Critical Inquiry 16 (Winter 1990), pp. 320–21.
Paul Taylor. "Jasper Johns." Interview 20 (July 1990), p. 100.
Fred Orton. Figuring Jasper Johns. Cambridge, 1994.
Kirk Varnedoe. Jasper Johns: A Retrospective. Exh. cat., Museum of Modern Art. New York, 1996, pp. 15, 102.
David Sylvester. Jasper Johns, Flags: 1955–1994. Exh. cat., Anthony d'Offay Gallery. London, 1996, p. 73, ill. p. 74.
Robert Hughes. The Shock of the New: The Hundred–Year History of Modern Art–Its Rise, Its Dazzling Achievement, Its Fall. New York, 1996, p. 337, colorpl. 226.
Carter Ratcliff. The Fate of a Gesture: Jackson Pollock and Postwar American Art. New York, 1996, pp. 131–32, relates that this painting was one of only two that remained unsold after Exh. New York 1958.
Lilian Tone in Kirk Varnedoe. Jasper Johns: A Retrospective. Exh. cat., Museum of Modern Art. New York, 1996, pp. 124, 127–28, 166, 198, 229, ill. pp. 116 (color detail), 128 (installation photo, Exh. New York 1958), colorpl. 11.
Jean-Philippe Domecq. "Jasper Johns ou l'Art sur l'art." Esprit no. 219 (March 1996), p. 123.
Werner Schmalenbach. Die Lust auf das Bild: Ein Leben mit der Kunst. Berlin, 1996, pp. 326–28, ill.
Robert Rosenblum. Jasper Johns: Werke aus dem Besitz des Künstlers / Loans from the Artist. Exh. cat., Fondation Beyeler. Basel, 1997, pp. 19, 30, 32, no. 2, ill. pp. 22–23 (color).
David Sylvester. "Shots at a Moving Target." Art in America 85 (April 1997), pp. 90–91, ill. (color).
Carol Vogel. "Met Buys Its First Painting by Jasper Johns." New York Times (October 29, 1998), pp E1, E6, ill.
Nan Rosenthal in "Recent Acquisitions. A Selection: 1998–1999." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 57 (Fall 1999), pp. 66–67, ill. (color).
Stella Paul. Twentieth-Century Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art: A Resource for Educators. New York, 1999, pp. 102–5, ill. (color and bw), and ill. (color) front cover (detail), back cover.
Philippe de Montebello. "Director's Note." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 57 (Fall 1999), p. 5.
Lilly Wei. "Complexity and Contradiction." Art News 98 (December 1999), p. 140, ill. (color), dates it 1954 in the text and 1955 in the caption.
Milton Esterow. "'Always a Gentleman': Remembering Leo Castelli and His Devotion to the Art of Our Time." Art News 98 (October 1999), p. 53.
Katie Clifford. "What Makes a Great Painting Great?" Art News 99 (September 2000), pp. 137–38, ill. (color).
Thomas Crow in Stephanie Barron and Lynn Zelevansky. Jasper Johns to Jeff Koons: Four Decades of Art from the Broad Collections. Exh. cat., Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Los Angeles, 2001, pp. 58, 60–61.
Kelly Devine Thomas. "The 10 Most Expensive Living Artists." Art News 103 (May 2004), p. 120.
Joachim Pissarro. Cézanne/Pissarro, Johns/Rauschenberg: Comparative Studies on Intersubjectivity in Modern Art. New York, 2006, p. 158, fig. 24.
John Yau. "Jasper Johns' Preoccupation." American Poetry Review 35 (January/February 2006), pp. 44, 50.
Robert Morris. Have I Reasons: Work and Writings, 1993–2007. Ed. Nena Tsouti-Schillinger. Durham, 2008, pp. 230, 247, fig. 120.
Holland Cotter. "A Banquet of World Art, 30 Years in the Making." New York Times (October 24, 2008), p. C33.
Stefan Neuner. Maskierung der Malerei: Jasper Johns nach Willem de Kooning. Munich, 2008, pp. 193–94, figs. 70 (installation photo, Exh. New York 1958), 73.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art Guide. New York, 2012, p. 424, ill. (color).
Benjamin H.D. Buchloh. "Painting as Diagram: Five Notes on Frank Stella's Early Paintings, 1958–1959." October 143 (Winter 2013), pp. 138–39, ill.
Margalit Fox. "Nan Rosenthal, 76, Advocate of 20th-Century Artworks." New York Times (May 2, 2014), p. B10.
Calvin Tomkins. "Onward and Upward with the Arts: The Met and the Now." New Yorker (January 25, 2016), p. 33.
John Onians. "Art History and Memory, From the Couch to the Scanner: On How the New Art History Woke Up to a Neural Future." Art History 40 (September 2017), pp. 718–19, colorpl. 9.
Roberta Bernstein et al. Jasper Johns: Catalogue Raisonné of Painting and Sculpture. Vol. 2, Painting, 1954–1970. New York, 2017, pp. 14–15, no. P7, ill. (color).
Roberta Bernstein et al. Jasper Johns: Catalogue Raisonné of Painting and Sculpture. Vol. 5, Reference. 2017, pp. 8–9, 44, 46–48, 50–53, 56, 60, 74–75, 82, 94–95, fig. 15 (installation photo, Exh. New York 1958), ill. p. 94 (color).
The Metropolitan Museum of Art Guide. New York, 2019, p. 424, ill. (color).
Max Hollein. Modern and Contemporary Art in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2019, ill. p. 112 (color).
Emily Sun. "Decolonizing Western Narratives of Modern Art." hyperallergic.com. September 26, 2019.
Hannah Yohalem in Carlos Basualdo and Scott Rothkopf. Jasper Johns: Mind/Mirror. Exh. cat., Philadelphia Museum of Art and Whitney Museum of American Art. Philadelphia and New York, 2021, p. 108.
Ralph Lemon in Carlos Basualdo and Scott Rothkopf. Jasper Johns: Mind/Mirror. Exh. cat., Philadelphia Museum of Art and Whitney Museum of American Art. Philadelphia and New York, 2021, pp. 59, 142, no. 4 ("Flags and Maps" section), ill. (color) inside jacket cover and p. 64.
Jason Farago. "Close Read: How a Gray Painting Can Break Your Heart." nytimes.com. January 16, 2022, ill. (color).
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