The Latin title of this painting can be translated as "Man, heroic and sublime." It refers to Newman’s essay "The Sublime is Now," in which he asks, "If we are living in a time without a legend that can be called sublime, how can we be creating sublime art?" His response is embodied in part by this painting—his largest ever at that time. Newman hoped that the viewer would stand close to this expansive work, and he likened the experience to a human encounter: "It's no different, really, from meeting another person. One has a reaction to the person physically. Also, there’s a metaphysical thing, and if a meeting of people is meaningful, it affects both their lives."
Gallery label from 2006.
Vir Heroicus Sublimis, Newman’s largest painting at the time of its completion, is meant to overwhelm the senses. Viewers may be inclined to step back from it to see it all at once, but Newman instructed precisely the opposite. When the painting was first exhibited, in 1951 at the Betty Parsons Gallery in New York, Newman tacked to the wall a notice that read, “There is a tendency to look at large pictures from a distance. The large pictures in this exhibition are intended to be seen from a short distance.” Newman believed deeply in the spiritual potential of abstract art. The Latin title of this painting means “Man, heroic and sublime.”
Gallery label from Abstract Expressionist New York, October 3, 2010-April 25, 2011.