Beginning in 1958, Rauschenberg embarked on a series of illustrations representing each canto of Dante’s Inferno, a series that would take him two and a half years to complete. He used a technique of his own invention: using lighter fluid to make transfers of pictures clipped from magazines, then drawing over the shadowy image with pencil and watercolour. This work represents the dark wood where Dante first encounters Virgil, his guide for the descent into hell.
Canto I: The Dark Wood of Error, from the series Thirty-Four Illustrations for Dante's Inferno
56.5 x 47.6 cm
Date of work
Original: Solvent transfer with gouache, wash, pencil, and watercolor on paper 56.5 x 47.6 cm The Museum of Modern Art, Given anonymously © Robert Rauschenberg Foundation
One of the most influential figures of twentieth-century art, Robert Rauschenberg was a pioneering artist who ultimately challenged perceptions of what art could be. Born in Texas in 1925 he later moved to New York, where he created many of his best-known works. Endlessly curious and inventive, his work ranged from painting and sculpture to performance and dance. His refusal to accept existing boundaries of what was considered art led him to continually experiment with new techniques, from innovative printing methods to incorporating found objects and detritus in his works. This radical approach prefigured pop art and inspired generations of conceptual artists in the decades that followed.