Jay DeFeo

The Rose

Not on view



Oil with fabric, string, and wood on canvas

Overall: 128 7/8 × 92 1/4 × 11in. (327.3 × 234.3 × 27.9 cm)

Accession number

Credit line
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; gift of The Jay DeFeo Foundation and purchase, with funds from the Contemporary Painting and Sculpture Committee and the Judith Rothschild Foundation

Rights and reproductions
© The Jay DeFeo Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York


Jay DeFeo began this monumental work simply as an “idea that had a center to it.” Initially, the painting measured approximately 9 x 7 feet and was called Deathrose, but in 1959, the artist transferred the work onto a larger canvas with the help of friends. She continued to work on The Rose for the next seven years, applying thick paint, then chiseling it away, inserting wooden dowels to help support the heavier areas of impasto. Now nearly eleven feet tall and weighing almost a ton, the work’s dense, multi-layered surface became, in DeFeo’s words, “a marriage between painting and sculpture.”

First exhibited in 1969, The Rose was taken to the San Francisco Art Institute, where it was covered with plaster for support and protection, and finally stored behind the wall of a conference room. Legend grew about the painting, but it remained sealed until 1995, when Whitney curator Lisa Phillips had it excavated and restored by a team of conservators, who created a backing strong enough to support the heavy paint. DeFeo resisted offering an explanation or interpretation of the work, although she did acknowledge that despite the work’s enormous size and rough surfaces, there was a connection to “the way actual rose petals are formed and how they relate to each other in the flower.”