The presentation is the first to focus on Freilicher’s (1924 - 2014) paintings from the 1950's; a body of work that critic Fairfield Porter termed “traditional and radical.” It will include early still lifes, portraits and the studio views that elucidate her characteristically deft balance of interior and exterior. Hailing from the 1950's and painted within various studios in lower Manhattan, the works are evocative of a downtown milieu that has since come to represent the period’s golden age of spirited, improvisational artistic freedom. They articulate Freilicher’s enduring influence: her steadfast observation and intuitive realism are detectable within the work of a number of painters working today.
Over a six-decade career, Freilicher quietly painted in direct contrast to the heroic and gestured angst of Abstract Expressionism, the industrial starkness of Minimalism, and the broad sweeping cacophony of Pop. She painted in the same spirit and dedication as Bonnard and Matisse: a subtle and unrelenting observation of domestic life. John Ashbery in a 1975 review described Freilicher with “obviously she paints what she sees, but it happens that she sees a lot."
Featured amongst the vivid array of the artist’s cityscapes are the tough iron zig-zags of fire escapes, plumes of wispy grey emerging from ConEdison smoke stacks, the quintessential red-brown of New York City apartment blocks, and the almost-abstract configurations to which these elements amount. Essential to Freilicher’s oeuvre is the ongoing balance of what’s inside and what’s outside, oftentimes realized in the delicate shift of perspective between a simple floral arrangement and the complexity of the city behind it. In the works, these landscapes are seen as on rather than beyond the window, and as such, reside in the interior. And the flowers are, to a certain extent, anthropomorphic, taking the place of the figure, as in ‘Flowers in an Armchair’ (1956.)
These kernels of Freilicher’s paintings—interiors, delicate light, drapery, the views of the city— were crystallized during this early period of her career. Freilicher returned tirelessly, and each time with renewed vitality, to the scenes within which she was absorbed: her home and studio. Those four walls and a window offered a fertile ground from which to paint, establishing the line of sight that eventually went on to characterize her later Water Mill paintings. Two paintings ‘Interior’ (1953) and ‘Interior’ (1954,) painted one year apart, illuminate this. Freilicher said of her work, “I’m quite willing to sacrifice fidelity to the subject to the vitality of the image, a sensation of the quick, lovely blur of reality as it is apprehended rather than analyzed. I like to work on that borderline -- opulent beauty in a homespun environment."
Freilicher, who was born in Brooklyn and lived and worked in Greenwich Village for the whole of her life, was a leading figure of the New York School scene of the 1950's and 1960's. In his poem ‘A Sonnet For Jane Freilicher,’ Frank O’Hara describes “Jane whose paintings like a stone / are massive true and silently risqué”. For Kenneth Koch, her sensibility was “a crucial part of the New York School’s influence.” The artist’s work is widely collected and is represented in major museum collections throughout the United States, including the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Museum of Modern Art. Her paintings were selected for inclusion in the 1995 Whitney Biennial.
Freilicher was a longtime member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the National Academy of Design. Her many honors included the National Academy of Design Saltus Gold Medal, the Academy of the Arts Lifetime Achievement Award from the Guild Hall Museum, and the Gold Medal in Painting from the Academy of Arts and Letters, its highest honor.
In anticipation of the exhibition, which is organized in cooperation with Eric Brown Art Group (Advisor to the estate) a solo presentation of her nudes is being exhibited at the ADAA: The Art Show in late February. A 100 page fully-illustrated catalogue will accompany “50's New York” and Freilicher will also be the subject of a forthcoming biography written by Karin Roffman (Farrar, Straus, Giroux).