Lee Krasner, a progressive female artist working hard throughout the Great Depression of the 1930s until the mid 1980s, has become known in larger circles as the wife of Jackson Pollock. Both artists worked for the government as part of the Works of Art Project’s (WPA) Federal Art Project (FAP) which was formulated by Franklin Delano Roosevelt during his four terms as US president, up until World War II. While Pollock may be a household name, Krasner is a celebrated artist in her own right. She was academically trained in drawing, painting, and other media. Yet it was the influence ofHans Hofmann that facilitated her Cubist-style detachments of forms in Nude Study. It was acquired by NBMAA in 1985, a year after her death.
This charcoal drawing helps illustrate how important and progressive Krasner was at this time. Women’s rights, both as citizens and artists, were in flux at the turn of the 20th century. The current WomenArtists@NewBritainMuseum exhibition at the NBMAA features Krasner’s Nude Study as one of their works in the sub-category of “Nudes,” and Untitled (Still Life) under “Abstraction.” The nude section focuses on the female form as a work of art, and their depiction by female artists specifically. Historically, art was a severely male-dominated field, with a few exceptions up until the 19th century. Krasner was pushing boundaries on both sides, because of her abstract approach, and with the subject of the female nude. Can you imagine living in a time when both artist’s rights and women’s rights were stifled?
The female’s depiction is abstracted to the point of almost being unrecognizable as a human figure. If you just breezed over the drawing without reading the wall text or realized what section it was placed in, you may even be inclined to say it was simply geometric figures, which play equally in the lighting. These provide a full spectrum of grey tones, from almost pure white to black. The contrast is well balanced though, as can be seen from the curvilinear and squared surfaces protruding out in all directions. The point of view also suggests a room of sorts, which help to emphasize the nude female figure abstracted so eloquently. This abstraction allowed Krasner to join a group called American Abstract Artists, and exhibit around the country.
During this time she met fellow artist and future husband Jackson Pollock. Funny to think she didn’t know him during the FAP! This professional and personal relationship would prove beneficial to each of their work, especially because both artists were known for their expressive and dedicated attitudes.
Later in her life she suffered a brain aneurism, and retreated into Pollock’s old studio for several years. Decades later in 1976 at the Whitney Museum of American Art, a massive exhibition helped to cement her status as a prominent American Abstract artist. Her professional distance from her husband helped to make her well known before she died eight years later in 1984. During her later years she created large-scale collages which featured numerous previous sketches of hers from years before. This included various charcoal drawings similar to Nude Study.
She stands her ground as a prominent American artist, and her works deserve their own recognition without any biased views about her being in any way secondary to her husband. Do you think she holds her ground on her own credentials? And furthermore, how much do you think her career suffered as a result of his fame? Did she choose to put her career on the back burner to nurture Pollock? What do you think of their relationship?
Be sure to see the current exhibition WomenArtists@NewBritainMuseum to view these two artworks in person, in addition to the works of many other prominent female artists of the last 200 years.
WomanArtists@NewBritainMuseum exhibition catalogue