Jackson Pollock, Lee Krasner, The New York School and Art Of This Century Gallery

Jackson Pollock is the American painter most associated with Gestural Abstraction and the New York School at the mid century mark.  We need to be careful and not overlook the contributions Peggy Guggenheim and Lee Krasner made to this experimental art movement emanating from Greenwich Village.  Krasner stated:  “Painting… in which the inner and the outer man are inseparable, transcends technique, transcends subject and moves into the realm of the inevitable.”  How would you interpret this statement by Krasner and do you believe it offers insight into the work of Pollock, Krasner and the other gestural abstractionists?

Photo of Lee Krasner in her studio

Photo of Lee Krasner watching Jackson Pollock paint the composition One

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The Irascibles and the Rise of the New York School

The following article, entitled 18 Painters Boycott Metropolitan; Charge ‘Hostility to Advanced Art’, appeared in the New York Times (May 22, 1950):

“Eighteen well-known advanced American painters have served notice on the Metropolitan Museum of Art that they will not participate in a national exhibition at the museum in December because the award juries are ‘notoriously hostile to advanced art.’  This was made known last night in an open letter to Roland L. Redmond, museum president, in which  the painters and sculptors asserted that the organization of the exhibition and the choice of the jurors ‘does not warrant any hope that a just proportion of advanced art will be included.’  The letter charged that Francis Henry Taylor, museum director, had ‘on more than one occasion publicly declared his contempt for modern painting.’  It added that Robert Beverly Hale, the museum’s associate curator of American art, had, in ‘accepting a jury notoriously hostile to advanced at,’ taken his ‘place beside Mr. Taylor.’  ‘We draw to the attention of those gentleman,’ the letter went on, ‘the historical fact that, for roughly 100 years, only advanced art has made any consequential contribution to civilization.’  The letter declared the signers’ belief that ‘all the advanced artists of America will join us in our stand.’  The artists who signed the letter were Jimmy Ernst, adolph Gottlieb, Robert Motherwell, William Baziotes, Hans Hofmann, Barnett Newman, Clyfford Still, Richard Pousette-Dart, Theodoros Stamos, Ad Reinhardt, Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Bradley Walker Tomlin, Willem de Kooning, Hedda Sterne, James Brooks, Weldon Kees and Fritz Bultman.  The letter also was signed by ten sculptors with the notation that they supported the artists’ stand.  The sculptors were Herbert Ferber, David Smith, Ibram Lassaw, Mary Callery, Day Schnabel, Seymour Lipton, Peter Grippe, Theodore Roszak, David Hare and Louise Bourgeois.  Mr. Newman, one of the artists, explained that he and his colleagues were critical of the membership of all five regional juries established for the exhibition but were specifically opposed to the New York group, the ‘national jury of selection’ and the ‘jury of awards.’  The New York jurors are Charles Burchfield, Yasuo Kuniyoshi, Leon Kroll, Ogden Pleissner, Vaclav Vytlacil and Paul Sample.  The national jury is composed of Mr. Hale, Mr. Pleissner, Maurice Sterne, Millard Sheets, Howard Cook, Lamar Dodd, Francis Chapin, Zoltan Sepeshy and Esther Williams.  The jury awards, which will confer the prizes, includes William M. Milliken, Franklin C. Watkins and Eugene Speicher.  The exhibition is to be known as ‘American Painting Today—1950.’  Mr. Redmond is in Europe and could not be reached for comment.  Both Mr. Taylor and Mr. Hale said they preferred not to comment until they had seen the letter.”

What are your thoughts on this group of 18 American artists, sometimes referred to as the Irascibles, writing an open letter to the administrative leadership of the Metropolitan Museum of Art criticizing them for being against advanced art?

Nina Leen, The Irascibles, 1950

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Edward Hopper and the American Scene

Artists began to cast their gaze on the change that was transforming America from a quiet, isolationist country into a player on the world’s international stage.  One of those chroniclers of this sweeping change in America was the painter and printmaker Edward Hopper.  Hopper strove to capture the most exact transcription of the natural appearance of America during this formidable change.  Some critics dismissed his vision of the evolving American  scene as boring and banal.  Others recognized that Hopper did indeed have his hands and eyes on the American pulse.  Lloyd Goodrich, one of Hopper’s biographers, stated in 1950:  “Banality was inherent in much of his subject matter, but the strength of his feeling for familiar reality transformed banality into authentic poetry.”  What are your thoughts on Hopper’s interpretation of the American scene, do you find his work banal, and what did this artist add to the American culture between the wars and immediately after WWII?

Edward Hopper, Self Portrait

Edward Hopper, Early Sunday Morning, 1930

Edward Hopper, The Nighthawks, 1942

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Cecilia Beaux on “Intricacies and Interdependencies”

Delivering a lecture at Simmons College, the American landscape and portrait painter Cecilia Beaux acknowledged that she was faced with the same challenges as her male counterparts when it came to painting the face.  When clients and patrons commissioned her to do their portraits, Beaux said she was presented with the complex and myriad interactions between creator, subject and medium.  Fortunately for Ms. Beaux, she enjoyed a long and distinguished relationship with the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts that was collaborative.  In her Simmons College lecture, Ms. Beaux stated:  “In this collaboration between personality, artist and material, there must be exercised infinite reconciliations shiftings, compromises—exchanges between the absolute—(that is, the weight and momentum of the personality) and the flexible power of line, modeling and color…But to go into the intricacies and interdependencies of the interchange between spirit and matter…all of this would be an endless story.”  What are your thoughts on Beaux’s notion of “intricacies and Interdependencies” regarding face painting (i.e., the interactions between creator, subject, and medium)?

Cecilia Beaux painting Cardinal Mercier, 1919

Cecilia Beaux, Portrait of Georges Clemenceau, 1919

 

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Mary Cassatt and Women Artists

Mary Cassatt was an American artist whose adult career was forged while living abroad.  As an ex-patriot artist, Ms. Cassatt had to fight her entire adult life for the “right” to be an artist.  Edgar Degas, the famed French Impressionist artist who recognized that Ms. Cassatt had an incredible talent, exclaimed with both envy and appreciation:  “I will not admit that a woman can draw so well.”  What are your thoughts on women artists like Mary Cassatt finally being able to exert their “right” to be artists at the end of the 19th century and to “fight” for equal privileges alongside their male counterparts?

Mary Cassatt, Breakfast in Bed

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John Singer Sargent, American Renaissance, and the Ex-Patriots

John Singer Sargent spent most of his life in France and Western Europe.  Even though he was an “American” artist, his experiential roots are much closer to the European model.  Sargent’s professional success was centered on his extraordinary talents as a face painter.  Notwithstanding his financial success as a portrait painter, Sargent had a love/hate relationship with face painting.  Sargent is attributed to have said:  “Every time I paint a portrait, I lose a friend.”  What are your thoughts on John Singer Sargent, his work, and his love/hate relationship with face painting?

John Singer Sargent, Self Portrait, 1906

John Singer Sargent, El Jaleo, 1882

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Thomas Eakins During the American Renaissance

Thomas Eakins, arguably America’s finest painter during the 19th century, cast his gaze around the vicinity that was Philadelphia and recorded his impressions in a wide swath of painted themes.  Whether he was doing commissioned portraits or investigating the human figure in athletic competition, Eakins strove to maintain a balance between the marks of Nature and opportunities to see with greater clarity thanks to advances in technology (i.e., the camera).  And yet, inexplicably, Eakins constantly had to battle criticism and disdain mercilessly directed toward him from the conservative powers of Philadelphia’s culture.  In an 1894 letter to Harrison Morris, Eakins lamented:  “My honours are misunderstanding, persecution, and neglect, enhanced because unsought.” As you look at/reflect on an early photograph of Eakins in his 30s and then at his self portrait completed shortly before his death, what are your thoughts on Eakins work and the vehement reaction directed toward him by a narrow-minded populace culturally contained/constrained in the past and resistant to the early manifestations of modernism?

Thomas Eakins, Self Portrait, ca 1902

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