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Jane Freilicher

American Painter

Jane Freilicher Photo

Born: November 29, 1924 - Brooklyn, New York

Died: December 9, 2014 - Manhattan, New York

"[My works] were an emotional reaction to something I find beautiful in the subject, which provides the energy, the impetus to paint."

Summary of Jane Freilicher

Amidst the existential gestures and transcendent color fields of Abstract Expressionism, Jane Freilicher hewed to a quiet realism that won the admiration of her friends, painters and poets alike. Not able to find her voice in abstraction, Freilicher concentrated her sights on the urban landscape outside of her Greenwich Village apartment, still lifes, and later the Long Island landscape around the Hamptons. Though her subjects remained consistent throughout her painting career, each new canvas brought a new mood, association, or perspective on the familiar.

Her commitment to realism bucked critical trends but inspired a host of mid-20th century American realist painters, including Larry Rivers, Fairfield Porter, and Grace Hartigan. She combined the sensibilities of earlier 20th-century painters Pierre Bonnard and Eduard Vuillard with the compositional lessons gleaned from her teacher Hans Hofmann to contribute to the burgeoning scene of Contemporary Realism that resisted the clamor of the growing post-World War II consumer culture and instead insisted on the importance of the everyday and the present.

Key Ideas

Freilicher's realism is rooted in everyday landscapes and objects, and yet her compositions create a dialogue between realism and abstraction. In the juxtaposition of flat planes of color and often-time impressionistic brush strokes, Freilicher's paintings recall the quasi-abstractions of the Post-Impressionists and Cubists.
Especially in her paintings done in New York City, Freilicher often combined outside and interior views, often blurring the boundary between the two. While she did paint portraits of her friends, her still lifes and cityscapes are usually without people and yet still convey the sense of human presence even in its absence.
Freilicher never adopted an Abstract Expressionist style, but such decisions did not keep her out of their social circles. Friends with both first- and second-generation Abstract Expressionists as well as the group of New York School poets, Freilicher was a beloved figure on the post-war New York scene, influencing and influenced by her friends.
Freilicher's embrace of realism was part of a larger trend in the 1950s that saw artists returning to figurative subjects, both earnestly and ironically. Along with artists like Grace Hartigan, Alice Neel, and Larry Rivers, Freilicher made a case that realism - and not just abstraction - was a valid, even necessary, response to Cold War culture.
Jane Freilicher Photo

Jane Freilicher, neé Jane Niederhoffer, was born in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn in 1924. The only girl in a large family, she was coddled by her parents. Her mother was an amateur pianist who played in silent movie theaters before marrying. Her father was an Eastern European immigrant and a Spanish- and Yiddish-language court translator. His love for his daughter's drawings "was a kind of encouragement to go into the arts," Freilicher remembered. In particular, Freilicher liked flowers; she remembered, "When I was a child my parents used to give me little bouquets. I liked to contemplate them, wonder about them." Her brother often brought home issues of Verve magazine, which featured high-quality reproductions of works by artists like Picasso, Matisse, and Miró, and she wondered if she couldn't make art a career for herself.

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