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Seattle Art Museum (SAM)

Esquimaux Idiom

Photo: Paul Macapia

Esquimaux Idiom


Mark Tobey

born Centerville, Wisconsin, 1890; died Basel, Switzerland, 1976

Tobey collected Northwest Coast native masks and in this abstraction drew from a Yup'ik River wind maker mask, created by a population of indigenous peoples of Alaska. Tobey called Native American art simply another variation on beautiful form—an Esquimaux idiom, he named it in this instance. The intricately mobile wind-maker mask that Tobey has painted here must have appealed to his keen sense of active space. He painted it to appear highly animated, with outstretched hands indicating the rush of wind.

Tempera with graphite on composition board
43 1/2 x 27 1/2in. (110.5 x 69.9cm)
Gift of Gladys and Sam Rubinstein
Provenance: The artist; sold to Mr. and Mrs. Sam Rubinstein, Seattle, Washington, through [Tucker, Shields, and Terry, Seattle], probably 1949; to Seattle Art Museum, 1969
Photo: Paul Macapia
Not currently on view


Exhibition HistorySeattle, Washington, Seattle Art Museum, Thirty-fourth Annual Exhibition of Northwest Artists, Oct. 6-Nov. 7, 1948. Cat. no. 155 [as Esquimaux Idiom, for sale].

{San Francisco, California Palace of the Legion of Honor, Retrospective Exhibition of Paintings by Mark Tobey, Mar. 31-May 6, 1951}.(Seattle, Henry Gallery, University of Washington, May 20-June 27, 1951; Santa Barbara, California, Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Aug. 16-Sept. 9, 1951; New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, Oct. 4-Nov. 4, 1951).

Seattle, Seattle Art Museum, Mark Tobey: A Retrospective Exhibition from Northwest Collections, Sept. 11-Nov. 1, 1959 (Portland, Oregon, Portland Art Museum; Colorado Springs, Colorado, Colorado Springs Arts Center; Pasadena, California, Pasadena Art Museum; San Francisco, M. H. de Young Memorial Museum [dates not given for tour sites]). Text by Edward B. Thomas. Cat. no. 113, n.p., reproduced.

Paris, Palais du Louvre, Pavillon de Marsan, Musée des arts décoratifs, Mark Tobey, Oct. 18-Dec.1, 1961 (London, The Whitechapel Art Gallery, Jan. 31-Mar. 4, 1962; Brussels, Palais des beaux arts, Oct. 18, 1961-[closing date not recorded] 1962). Cat. no. 56, not reproduced.

New York, Museum of Modern Art, Mark Tobey, Sept. 12-Nov. 4, 1962 (Cleveland, Ohio, The Cleveland Museum of Art, Dec. 11, 1962-Jan. 13, 1963; Chicago, The Art Institute of Chicago, Feb. 22-Mar. 24, 1963). Text by William C. Seitz. Cat. no. 45, not reproduced.

Washington, D.C., Washington Gallery of Modern Art, Twentieth Century Painting from Collections in the State of Washington, (dates not recorded),1966 (Seattle, Seattle Art Museum Pavilion, Dec. 8, 1966-Jan. 8, 1967). Cat. no. 71, not reproduced.

Seattle, Seattle Art Museum, Tobey's 80: A Retrospective, Dec. 3, 1970-Jan. 31, 1971. Cat. no. 53, n.p., reproduced.

{Munich, Germany, on the occasion of the Games of the XXth Olympiad, World Cultures and Modern Art: the Encounter of 19th and 20th century European Art and Music with Asian, Africa, Oceania, Afro- and Indo-America, June 16-Sept. 30, 1972. Cat. no. 2042.}

Seattle, Seattle Art Museum, Northwest Traditions, June 29-Dec.10, 1978 (Des Moines, Iowa, Des Moines Art Center, Mar. 19-Apr. 29, 1979). No cat. no., listed p. 106, not reproduced.

New York, Museum of Modern Art, Primitivism in 20th Century Art: Affinity of the Tribal and the Modern, Sept. 5, 1984-Jan. 15, 1985 (Detroit, Michigan, Detroit Institute of Arts, Feb. 23-May 19, 1985; Dallas, Texas, Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, June 15-Sept. 8, 1985). Text by William Rubin, et al. No cat. no., Vol. II, p. 620, reproduced.

Seattle, Seattle Art Museum, Views and Visions in the Pacific Northwest, June 7-Sept. 2, 1990. No catalogue.

Anchorage, Alaska, Anchorage Museum of History and Art, The Living Tradition of Yup'ik Masks: Agayuliyararput-Our Way of Making Prayer, May-Oct. 1996 (New York, National Museum of the American Indian, Mar. 2-Aug. 17, 1997; Washington, D.C., National Museum of American History, Oct. 1-Dec. 31, 1997). No cat. no., p. 263, reproduced.

Seattle, Henry Gallery, University of Washington, What It Meant to Be Modern: Seattle Art at Mid-Century, Oct. 15, 1999-Jan. 23, 2000.

Seattle, Seattle Art Museum, Modernism in the Pacific Northwest: The Mythic and the Mystical, June 19-Sept. 7, 2014. Text by Patricia Junker. No cat. no., p. 45, reprodcued p. 44, pl. 21.
Published ReferencesIn chronological order:

Hudson, Andrew. "A 'Freshness of Eye' Wafted in From the West Coast," in Washington Post, Septembre 25, 1966: p. G11, reproduced.

"Accessions of American and Canadian Museums," The Art Quarterly, Vol. 32, no. 4 (1969): p. 443

Kangas, Matthew. Kathleen Gemberling Adkinson: A Retrospective. Spokane, Washington: Cheney Cowles Museum, Eastern Washington State Historical Society, 1999; p. 6, reproduced.

{Campbell, Suzan. Journey Without End: The Life and Art of Lawrence Calcagno. Albuquerque, New Mexico; The Albuquerque Museum, 2000.}

{Malaurie, Jean. L'art du grand nord. Paris: Citadelle & Mazenod, 2001.}

Balken, Debra Bricker. Mark Tobey: Threading Light. New York: Skira Rizzoli in association with the Addison Gallery of American Art, 2017; p. 53, reproduced pl. 21.

Eggelhofer, et al. Ten Americans: After Paul Klee. Exh. cat. New York: Prestel Publishing, in association with Zentrum Paul Klee and The Phillips Colelction: 2017; p. 101, reproduced fig. 87 [not in exhibition].

Seattle Art Museum respectfully acknowledges that we are on Indigenous land, the traditional territories of the Coast Salish people. We honor our ongoing connection to these communities past, present, and future.

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