Grace Hartigan

“I didn’t have talent,” she remarked later, “I just had genius.”

Grace Hartigan, artist, born March 28th 1922; died November 15th, 2008
American, Abstract Expressionism

In the 1950s, Grace Hartigan was the most celebrated woman painter in America, according to Life magazine. She modestly concurred: “I was a household name.” Her career traced a brilliant arc from international fame to a locally rooted esteem, and by the time of her death, aged 86, she was effectively a household name only in Baltimore, where she was revered as a teacher.

Throughout the 1950s, Hartigan and other women artists at the time faced resistance by the art establishment. Modernism, particularly Abstract Expressionism with its emphasis on “action painting,” was very much a male preserve as epitomized by the persona of the hard-living Jackson Pollack.

Grace Hartigan gained her reputation as part of the New York School of artists and painters that emerged in New York City during the 1940s and ’50s. She was a lively participant in the vibrant artistic and literary milieu of the times, and her friends included Jackson Pollock, Larry Rivers, Helen Frankenthaler, Willem and Elaine de Kooning, Frank O’Hara, Knox Martin, and many other painters, artists, poets, and writers.

One of her most intense personal relationships was with the poet Frank O’Hara. Though he was gay, she once said that their bond was more intense than any she ever had with a straight guy. O’Hara died in the summer of 1966 when he was hit by a jeep on the beach at Fire Island. On his gravestone today there are some lines of his poetry.

“Grace /to be born and live as variously as possible”.


Above: Grace Hartigan, Dolls 1976. Oil on canvas 49 x 82 inches.

One of Grace’s best-known pieces is shown above Grand Street Brides (1954) and underscores her willingness to abandon total abstraction in favor of adding recognizable elements into her composition in order to incorporate the everyday world that enthralled her.

Over the years she has had dozens of solo exhibits, as well as participating in group shows for galleries such as Tibor de Nagy and Martha Jackson in New York, and her paintings are held by prestigious museums such as the Metropolitan Museum and the Whitney Museum of Art.

“Somehow, in painting I try to make some logic out of the world that has been given to me in chaos.”

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