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Ring of Iron, Ring of Wool

Kay Sage (American, 1898–1963)

Created: 1947
Materials:Oil on canvas
Dimensions: W 56” x H 40”

Museum Purchase: The Katherine and Thomas Belk Acquisition Fund. 2016.8

© 2016 Estate of Kay Sage / Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York

Kay Sage was one of the leading American artists to be closely involved with the Surrealist movement. "Ring of Iron, Ring of Wool" was completed at the height of Sage’s career and incorporates all of the hallmarks of her signature style: a haunting, desolate landscape; beautifully rendered yet enigmatic forms; and sophisticated variations in tone and color. It is also one of the earliest works to incorporate her unique “scaffolding”—a compositional element that scholars have argued distinguishes her work from that of her peers. The title, which might seem to be a Surrealist play on words, is now thought to be a reference to the traditional gifts for a couple’s sixth and seventh anniversaries. The year 1947 marked the sixth anniversary of Sage and Tanguy’s move to Woodbury, Connecticut and the seventh of their marriage. One might even interpret the two large forms that dominate the composition as references to the artist and her husband. Upon her death in 1963, Sage donated all of the work in her possession to museums. The opportunity to acquire a major canvas like "Ring of Iron, Ring of Wool" is thus quite rare, since only the handful of pieces that she either sold or gave to friends while she was alive will ever come to the market. This painting was clearly considered to be of great significance at the time of its completion, for it was acquired directly from the artist by her dealer, Julien Levy, and included in that year’s annual exhibition of American painting at the Whitney Museum of American Art.