Friday, February 5, 2016

Fine Arts Friday: Paintings of Family Life by Horace Pippin

Giving Thanks by Horace Pippin, 1942

Horace Pippin was an African-American painter, born in West Chester, Pennsylvania,  in 1888, 10 miles from the Brandywine River. When he was a small child, his family moved to Goshen, New York, but he returned to West Chester in 1920 and lived there with his wife until his death in 1946.

Pippin was an artist who proved what courage and perseverance can achieve. He was forced by the illness of his mother to leave school as a young teen and work to help support the family. When World War I came, he joined the renowned African-American 369th infantry, called Harlem's Hell Fighters, all of whom received France's Croix de Guerre honor. Pippin returned from the war with wounds that rendered his right arm useless. This did not stop him from becoming an artist. To paint, he learned to use his left arm to prop up and guide his right hand.

Horace Pippin marker outside 327 West Gay Street in West Chester, where Pippin and his wife lived. The marker says notes: "A self-taught black artist, he painted while living here such notable works as 'Domino Players,' 'John Brown Going to His Hanging,' and the 'Holy Mountain' series."

In 1937 at the behest of a local school principal, Pippin's work was shown in the Chester County Art Association show. N. C. Wyeth, a judge of the show, found his paintings impressive and began to open doors to Pippin. Wyeth introduced his work to the art historian, Christian Brinton, and from there Pippin's work began to be collected, including by Albert Barnes. His work also came to the attention of the pioneering New York City art dealer Edith Halpert. One year later, his work was being shown at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.  In 1994, a retrospective of his work, with more than 100 paintings, was shown at the Metropolitan Art Museum, and in 2015, the Brandywine River Museum had a major exhibition of his work.

Pippin painted many kinds of subjects--historical, allegorical, religious, and scenes from life in the Brandywine River Valley. Here is a small selection from among his scenes of domestic life. All of these paintings were done in the last few years of his life. Some of them have quilts, and in Domino Players, a woman is sewing one! Pippin may have been thought of as a folk artist, but I find in his work a sophistication of color and composition that goes beyond folk art, and an emotional intensity with an economy of line that folk art often lacks.

Christmas Morning Breakfast, 1945

Domino Players, 1943

Sunday Morning Breakfast, 1943

Supper Time, 1940

Interior, 1944

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