Indepth Arts News: |
"Robert Gwathmey: a Retrospective"
2000-01-12 until 2000-02-27
Virginia Historical Society
USA United States of America
Nearly 60 works by Richmond, Virginia, artist Robert Gwathmey (1903-1988) will go on exhibit at the Virginia Historical
Society January 12, 2000, and remain on view until February 27, 2000. The exhibition brings together the major paintings of
Gwathmey's career, including Portrait of a Farmer's Wife (1969), Poll Tax Country (1945), Isolation (1977), and Sowing
(1949). Organized by the Butler Institute of American Art in Youngstown, Ohio, the show examines Gwathmey's compassion
for the human spirit and his disdain for the cruel suffering of the economically disadvantaged. His work, which primarily
addresses the hardships endured by blacks in rural Virginia at mid-century, was rebellious and troubling at the time that it was
produced. It echoed Gwathmey's inclinations as a social realist, including his concern about injustice. Gwathmey argued that
he was simply an observer of the human condition, not a voice for change. This well-researched and much needed book is
important for bringing Robert Gwathmey's compassionate observations about racial inequity and rural poverty to a broad
audience, one that finally is ready to appreciate the message, remarks Charles F. Bryan, Jr., director of the Virginia Historical
Gwathmey developed a two-dimensional style that was uniquely his own. His paintings juxtapose primitive, carefully chosen
shapes and angles against startling color, often outlined in black. In choosing color, Gwathmey sometimes arranged collected
bits of different hued papers and rags on the table or floor until he arrived at the desired effect. Some of his paintings were
inspired by his wife Rosalie's documentary photographs of African-American life in the South during the 1930s and 1940s.
He also used her as a model on occasion.
Robert Gwathmey was born January 24, 1903, in Richmond, Virginia, and graduated from John Marshall High School in
1921. After some studies at North Carolina State University and the Maryland Institute of Design, he entered the Pennsylvania
Academy of the Fine Arts in 1926 and began teaching at Beaver College in Glenside, Pennsylvania (near Philadelphia) after
graduation in 1930. In 1935 he married Rosalie Hook, and they had a son, Charles, in 1938. Gwathmey taught at the Carnegie
Institute of Technology from 1939 to 1942 and then at the Cooper Union School of Art in New York City until his retirement
in 1968. He then moved to Amagansett, Long Island, to the home and studio designed by his son. Robert Gwathmey was
elected to the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters and to full membership in the National Academy of Design.
He died in 1988 at the age of 85.
The exhibition catalog is introduced by Gwathmey's son, Charles, an accomplished architect who was involved with the
Guggenheim Museum Renovation and Addition project and who is the youngest recipient of the AIA's Brunner Prize. Charles
Gwathmey is a trustee of The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art and recently endowed the Robert
Gwathmey Chair in Art and Architecture there.
Pulitzer prize-winning author Michael Kammen has written the first biography of Gwathmey, Robert Gwathmey: The Life and
Art of a Passionate Observer. The publication of the book coincides with the exhibition tour. On January 14, 2000, at noon,
Michael Kammen will lecture at the Virginia Historical Society about Gwathmey. The lecture is free with admission and to
Richmond Times-Dispatch press pass holders.