'It was a painting I knew well from photographs and books, but nothing prepared me for the power of seeing it in front of me.'

ruth rodgersBlue Poles, 1952, by Jackson Pollock (1912–56), 7ft by 16ft, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, Australia

Ruth Rodgers says:

I went to the “Abstract Expressionism” exhibition at the Royal Academy knowing that this masterpiece would be there. It was a painting I knew well from photographs and books, but nothing prepared me for the power of seeing it in front of me, with its giant sloping verticals receding and advancing. Paintings are meant to stay in their canvas; this one seemed like it wanted to escape – or perhaps, with its incredible energy, it already had. Blue Poles left me baffled, exhilarated and in love – a love that was all the more intense and poignant because I knew it was just a matter of time before we would be separated by the huge distance between London and Australia. But it was a love that distance could not dilute and a love that would stay with me forever.

Ruth Rogers is the chef owner of The River Cafe in London, which recently celebrated its 30th birthday with a new cookbook, River Cafe 30.

John McEwen comments on Blue Poles:

Pollock’s Blue Poles was bought in 1973 with the approval of Gough Whitlam, Australia’s Labour Prime Minister, for A$1.3 million – a world-record price for an American painting and generally derided as an example of Socialist financial ineptitude. Sydney’s Daily Mirror bannered: ‘Barefoot drunks painted our $1m masterpiece.’ It is currently insured for A$350 million (about £197m), the most expensive, hence famous, paint-
ing in Australasia.

In 1952, Pollock had his first show in Paris and was included in ‘15 Americans’ at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. His New York solo show, in which Blue Poles (originally Number 11) first appeared, was named second best of the year by Art News magazine. The two pre-eminent New York art critics rated him the best contemporary American painter and the prototypical ‘Action Painter’, as Harold Rosenberg dubbed the ‘Abstract Expressionist’ style.

However, Pollock’s success was professional, not financial. Of his most famous paintings today, only half a dozen sold during his lifetime, half of them in his last year, and for relatively small sums. The most expensive cost $8,000, to be paid over four years. This meant that he and his wife, the painter Lee Krasner, could barely survive. His fellow artist Tony Smith wrote: ‘The financial pinch must have been terrible… I think Jackson started to drink again… out of despair.’

Some disapproved of Pollock’s subsequent change of title, considering it too narrowly descriptive. This was the last of his large (‘mural’) paintings, briefly destined for a Catholic church to be designed by Smith, a Catholic (the project fell through). The brilliant curator Bryan Robertson, Pollock’s foremost English champion, considered it a ‘definitive summing-up’.