GRACE HARTIGAN (1922-2008)
GRACE HARTIGAN (1922-2008)
GRACE HARTIGAN (1922-2008)
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GRACE HARTIGAN (1922-2008)
4 More
GRACE HARTIGAN (1922-2008)

Early November

GRACE HARTIGAN (1922-2008)
Early November
signed, inscribed and dated 'Hartigan '59 N.Y.' (lower left)
oil on canvas
81 1⁄8 x 68 3⁄8 in. (206.1 x 173.7 cm.)
Painted in 1959.
Mr. & Mrs. Patrick B. McGinnis, Cincinnati
C. Grimaldis Gallery, Baltimore
Private collection, Baltimore, 1995
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Washington, D.C., Gres Gallery, Grace Hartigan, January-February 1960, no. 3.
Boston University Art Gallery, Works from Private Collections, April-May 1960.
Lincoln, Massachusetts, DeCordova Museum and Pittsburgh, Chatham College, Paintings, Sculpture & Drawings from the Collection of Mr. & Mrs. Patrick B. McGinnis, October-December 1960, no. 17.

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Emily Kaplan
Emily Kaplan Senior Vice President, Senior Specialist, Co-Head of 20th Century Evening Sale

Lot Essay

Grace Hartigan’s Early November (1959) greets the viewer with a cacophony of colors and forms, each audacious brushstroke beckoning the eye forward into a wild, joyous dance. The painting seems not to represent movement, but rather to incarnate its very essence. Vivid tangerines blend into deepened rust, only to be interrupted by midnight blues and shocks of green. When these bold shades of disparate colors are splashed across thes canvas in wriggling, abstract shapes, the potential for chaos arises. Yet, somehow under the auspice of Hartigan’s brush, this bustling energy is tamed into a complex harmony, all while preserving the force of its visual impact. Hartigan’s role as a pioneering figure of Abstract Expressionism is on full display here, yet something deeper and more nuanced lurks under the thick layers of paint. Hartigan’s appreciation for classical giants of art history – a divergence from Abstract Expressionism’s wholesale rejection of tradition – lends this work a unique sensitivity to balance in composition and color. In the dynamic application of paint, unabashed expression of the painter’s hand, and figurative allusion in the title, Early November offers one of the most triumphant examples of Hartigan’s embodiment and subversion of Abstract Expressionism.

The present work was acquired directly from the artist by the collectors Mr. and Mrs. Patrick B. McGinnis. Initially collectors of decorative arts and old master drawings, the couple soon became champions of the avant-garde, and amassed a large group of paintings and sculptures celebrated for their 'daring, shrewdness and quality.' Largely historicized within the canon of leading Abstract Expressionists, Hartigan’s legacy is that of one of the most prominent women artists of the mid-20th century. Clement Greenberg, titan of modernism and champion of pure abstraction, selected her work to be included in the influential 1950 “Talent” exhibition. Greenberg’s approval cemented Hartigan’s place among the pantheon of second generation New York School Abstract Expressionists alongside figures like Helen Frankenthaler, Robert Rauschenberg, and Joan Mitchell. Early November draws visual parallels to works like Frankenthaler’s Blue Form in a Scene (1961), as both paintings combine masses of shapes into colorful, charged wholes. Made only two years apart, Early November and Blue Form in a Scene share a celebration of loud colors and raucously applied paint. However, Hartigan’s distinct approach to painting reveals itself in the subtle tension between her title and Frankenthaler’s. While Frankenthaler’s removed, descriptive title prevents any representative reading of the work, Hartigan’s title encourages figurative resonances. The goldenrod amoebas and blotches of crimson suggest patches of autumn leaves, while the splashes of cerulean may imply a darkened November sky. This blurring of the line between abstraction and figuration distinguishes Hartigan’s work from other Abstract Expressionists of her time. In the period between Greenberg’s heralding of Hartigan as a leading member of the movement and Early November’s creation in 1959, the artist’s style underwent a critical transformation, complicating any easy categorization of her work.

In 1952, Hartigan made the momentous decision to look to painters like Diego Velazquez and Francisco de Goya for lessons on classical tenets of aesthetics. Inspired by Willem de Kooning’s interest in the Old Masters, she completed studies of classical works, an exercise with effects that would ripple throughout the remainder of her career. In Early November, principles of ideal balance in composition – perhaps learned from Velazquez’s renowned placement of figures – engender an unexpected sense of harmony flowing through the painting’s swaths of color. Works like Velazquez’s The Coronation of the Virgin (1645) emphasize the visual unity that can arise when disproportionate forms are placed artfully on the canvas. Velazquez is known for his triangular arrangements of figures, a shape that provides both visual tension and stability.

Early November can be read as a masterful reflection of Velazquez’s proficiency in balance, with the three most eye-catching forms – an orange point upwards just right of center, a golden curved figure left of center, and a green point downwards in the bottom right – perhaps creating a tilted triangle of sorts. When confronted alongside Hartigan’s use of bright color, these grounding forms make for a strong visual foundation on which washes of pinks, blues, and maroons can sway and mingle.

While Hartigan embarked on intense analysis of Old Masters and their oeuvres in 1952, her interest in art history stretches to the earliest glimmers of her aspirations to be a professional artist. As a student at the Newark College of Engineering, Hartigan was introduced to Henri Matisse’s work by a peer. The French painter’s influence on the young Hartigan may be identified as the progenitor of her devotion to modernism and pushing the boundaries of modern art. Early November exhibits the best of this ongoing fascination with Matisse’s work, its colors and composition perhaps even striking a close resemblance to the French modernist’s Still Life with Chocolatiere (1900-1902). Matisse’s heavy application of paint and exaggerated outlines of shadows draw into high relief the same techniques in Hartigan’s work. In Early November, Hartigan expands on the abiding conceptions of modernism in her time, seamlessly melding abstraction with figuration to embrace both flatness and the perspectival picture plane. The present lot evades capture into one definition, abandoning strict loyalty to any movement in favor of a fluid, harmonious meditation on natural and classical beauty.

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