Blue Poles, originally titled Number 11, 1952, is an abstract expressionist painting and one of the most famous works by Jackson Pollock. It was purchased amid controversy by the National Gallery of Australia in 1973 and today remains one of the gallery's major holdings.
At the time of the painting's creation, Pollock preferred not to assign names to his works, but rather numbers; as such, the original title of Blue Poles was simply "Number 11"' or "No. 11" for the year 1952. In 1954, the new title Blue Poles was first seen at an exhibition at the Sidney Janis Gallery and reportedly originated from Pollock himself.
According to art historian Dennis Phillips, the specific rather than ambiguous title "limits our field of comprehension and does the painting a singular disservice. Because we look for the poles and miss much of the rest, the name is simply too distracting."
The National Gallery of Australia purchased Blue Poles in 1973 for A$1.3 million. The gallery's director at the time, James Mollison, was not able to authorize purchases over $1 million, so the acquisition was approved by Prime Minister Gough Whitlam.
The painting has become one of the most popular exhibits in the gallery, for both its value as a major work of 1950s abstract expressionism as well as its significance in Australian politics and history. For Australians, the purchase of Blue Poles is still frequently cited by the Labor Party faithful as proof of the wisdom of Gough Whitlam. Estimates of the painting's value vary widely, from $20 million to $100 million, but its increased value has still shown it to have been a worthwhile purchase by financial standards.