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From: "Peter McCrae" <>
Subject: [W-OBITS] HARTIGAN: Grace Hartigan at 104 2008
Date: Sun, 23 Nov 2008 13:53:21 -0000
Grace Hartigan was an Abstract Expressionist painter who gained prominence
alongside Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning.
Last Updated: 9:44AM GMT 19 Nov 2008
Grace Hartigan with friends in the Cedar Tavern Grace Hartigan, who died on
Saturday aged 86, was during the late 1950s and early 1960s the most
celebrated female painter in America, according to Life magazine; having
begun her career beside the pioneers of Abstract Expressionism, she became
noted for her bold pictorial expressions of everyday American life, and her
highly-coloured examinations of commercialism were often seen as a precursor
of the Pop Art movement.
Pictures such as Summer Street (1956) and the following year's Billboard
used figurative and representative components, but lent them a remarkable
degree of movement and rhythm by the use of complementary colours, and by
refusing to allow the eye to rest on any given point. Her remarkably vibrant
colours at this period, Time magazine noted, were "pounded into every
available space, her strokes seem committed out of rage; the effect is one
of extraordinary power". Grace Hartigan herself declared that her work
sprang from what was "vulgar and vital in modern American life" and, after a
trip to Europe, announced that she could never work there and that New York
was "the centre of modern painting".
Grace Hartigan was born on March 28 1922 at Newark, New Jersey, the daughter
of an accountant and his wife, an estate agent who was a member of the
Daughters of the American Revolution. Grace grew up at first at Bayonne and,
at the age of five, contracted pneumonia and was confined to bed for a year,
during which she taught herself to read and draw. To help with her recovery,
the family moved to Milburn in 1929, where she attended the high school and
shone in drama and English.
After school Grace Hartigan married her first husband, Robert Jachens, with
whom she had a son. The pair set off to live in Alaska, but instead wound up
in California. The marriage soon faltered, however, and they divorced in
1947. By then Grace Hartigan had returned home and had taken a job as a
mechanical instrument draughtsman at an aircraft engineers; she also took
evening classes in art, though she admitted that her output then showed
"absolutely no talent".
In the late 1940s she moved to New York City, where she worked as an editor
for a market research company, on the night desk of a travel bureau, and as
a model. Meanwhile, she enrolled in painting lessons with Isaac Lane Muse
who, she recalled, "valued creative imagination and feeling above skill",
and encouraged her to continue.
"It was not until 1949 that any of my paintings began to give me hope of
eventually reaching a full expression," she later admitted. She spent a year
in Mexico painting before returning to New York and falling in with many of
the young artists who were to be in the vanguard of the Abstract
With Albert Leslie and Robert Goodnough she helped to organise a show of
their work, which came to the attention of the critics Meyer Shapiro and
Clement Greenberg. They selected one of Grace Hartigan's canvases for an
influential show at the Kootz Gallery entitled Talent 1950.
The following year she had her first one-woman show, at the Tibor de Nagy
Gallery, and during the next few years attracted more attention and critical
acclaim (though she signed her canvases George Hartigan until 1953, feeling
that she would be taken more seriously).
She also began to hang around the Cedar Tavern, the Greenwich Village
drinking den popular with such figures as Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning
and Mark Rothko, and writers such as Frank O'Hara and John Ashbery.
In 1953 her painting Persian Jacket was acquired by the Museum of Modern Art
in New York for its permanent collection, and Grace Hartigan was also
commissioned to design the sets for Kenneth Koch's production of Red Riding
Hood at the Artists' Theatre. The following year she held another one-woman
show at Vassar College's Art Gallery. In 1955 Rising Talent, an exhibition
of "advanced tendency" art at the University of Minnesota, featured her
But about this time Grace Hartigan began to abandon the formal approaches of
pure abstraction. She had learnt, she reckoned, from Pollock's "passionately
creative personality" and from de Kooning's "quieter and more coherent
theories", but felt drawn to "a more overtly emotional kind of art" which,
like de Kooning's, felt unable to detach itself entirely from the
Grand Street Brides (1954) examined the mannequins in a window display in a
composition which owed its formal construction to Goya and was intended to
represent "a strange rivalry of ugliness and hope".
Her work was part of a tour of paintings from the Museum of Modern Art's
permanent collection which visited Europe in 1955-56 and, in the latter
year, was also included in the touring exhibition Twelve Americans. She
featured in Artists of the New York School, Second Generation, at the Jewish
Museum in 1957, and her work was shown in Japan, India, Brazil and, in
1958-59, as part of the major touring exhibition The New American Painting,
which introduced Abstract Expressionism to European audiences. By this time,
her paintings were also being acquired by prominent collectors and by
leading museums, including the Guggenheim, the Carnegie Institute in
Pittsburgh, the Washington Gallery of Modern Art, and the Minneapolis
In 1960 Grace Hartigan left New York to teach the graduate painting
programme at the Maryland Institute College of Art; she became director of
the Hoffberger School of Painting in 1965, where she taught until retiring
>From the mid-1960s Grace Hartigan became more experimental in her choice of
techniques, working in collage, in crayon and pastel, with silk screen and
lithographic prints and other media, rather than solely in oils. The
representational strain in her output, which had been evident since
landscapes such as Ireland (1958, now in the Guggenheim, Venice), became
more pronounced. The jazzy acrylic Inclement Weather (1970) included
markedly more straightforward pictorial forms, while continuing to offer a
view which she described as "like being on a very fast train and getting
glimpses of things in strange scales as you pass by".
Though interest in her work declined in the 1960s and 1970s - in common with
many of the Abstract Expressionists - she continued to command a market, and
she began, during the past few years, to be seen as one of the leading
figures of the period and to enjoy a renewed attention.
After her divorce from Robert Jachens, Grace Hartigan married the artist
Harry Jackson. They divorced after 18 months and in 1959 she married Robert
Keene, a gallery owner. That marriage ended after a year. She then met
Winston Price, an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins University who collected
paintings. He filled her room with freesias, and they married in 1960. But
in 1969 he injected himself with an experimental virus against encephalitis.
He became seriously ill and lost his job, and died in 1981.
The following year Grace Hartigan attempted suicide and later acknowledged
her alcoholism. After giving up drinking, she gradually began to concentrate
on a series of large-scale watercolours.
She was the subject of retrospectives at the Fort Wayne Museum of Art,
Indiana, in 1981; at the American University in Washington DC in 1987; and
at the Kouros Gallery, New York, in 1989. She was ambivalent about her
inclusion in an exhibition devoted to Pop Art (which, despite her interest
in commercial imagery, she disliked) held at the Whitney Museum in 1993.
Earlier this year her work featured in Action/Abstraction: Pollock, de
Kooning and American Art, 1940-1976 at the Jewish Museum in New York.
She liked reading and gardening.
Grace Hartigan's son predeceased her in 2006.
|[W-OBITS] HARTIGAN: Grace Hartigan at 104 2008 by "Peter McCrae" <>|