Lee Krasner
Biography of American Female Abstract Expressionist Painter.
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Composition (c.1940-43)
Smithsonian American Art Museum,
Washington DC. One of the
great 20th-century paintings
by a female artist.

Lee Krasner (1908-84)

Contents

Introduction
Early Career
Jackson Pollock
Mature Career
Other Important Paintings by Lee Krasner


POSTERS
Paintings by Lee Krasner
are also widely available online
in the form of poster art.

WORLDS BEST PAINTERS
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MODERN PAINTERS
For more artists like
Lee Krasner, see: Modern Artists.

Introduction

The renowned American painter Lee Krasner was an influential figure in American art - notably, the New York School of Abstract Expressionism. Her early works were representational but by 1940 she was exhibiting with the American Abstract Artists and gaining a reputation as a younger-generation modernist. In 1941 she met Jackson Pollock (1912-56) and soon began a tumultuous relationship. They married in 1945 and separated shortly before Pollock's death. They began by exhibiting together, and Krasner became an important source of support for Pollock whose work reflected his fluctuant moods, swinging from supreme confidence to dismal depression. Although she received some early distinction, it was only after her husband's death that she began to receive serious critical acclaim. Her mature works frequently included collage, using fragments of her own drawings. Key works from her career include Composition (1940-43, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington DC); Gothic Landscape (1961, Tate Modern, London); Mysteries (1972, The Brooklyn Museum of Art); The Seasons (1957, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York) and Rising Green (1972, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York). Her Little Image series which she began in 1946 incorporated dots and drips of paint which inspired Pollock's now famous action painting of the same period.

 

 

Early Career

Born Lenore Krassner to Russian-Jewish immigrant parents, she studied at the Cooper Union School of Art, the Art Students League and the National Academy of Design in New York, receiving a grounding in painting, drawing and design. After completing her studies at the National Academy of Design, she worked on public works under the Federal Arts Project (FAP) from 1935 to 1943. These were part of the New Deal art patronage projects which employed many important artists of the day including Jackson Pollock, the Colour Field painter Mark Rothko (1903-70), the surrealist Arshile Gorky (1904-48), the American Scene/Regionalist painter Thomas Hart Benton (1889-1975) and the idiosyncratic modernist Marsden Hartley (1877-1943). The program is reputed to have sponsored over 200,000 works of arts including paintings, murals and posters, which today are still some of the country's most important public art works. Even though Pollock was also employed at the same time in New York on FAP projects, they only met once during this period at an Artists Union party in 1936. Both artists were still in their early artistic development. In 1937 Krasner, dissatisfied with her personal progress, returned to art studies and joined an atelier under Hans Hofmann (1880–1966), a German born abstract expressionist who brought ideas of avant garde art from Paris and Munich, to New York. Under his influence, Krasner went from representational to abstract art, and began to flirt with Cubism. These resulted in her first body of mature works. When commenting on her work, Hofmann said: 'this is so good you would not know it was painted by a woman'.

Jackson Pollock

By 1940 Krasner was exhibiting with the with the American Abstract Artists, a group of painters and sculptors who joined together in 1936 with the aim of promoting their non-objective art and fostering public understanding of their ideas. Other abstract painters who belonged to the group included the likes of Willem de Kooning (1904-97), and Jackson Pollock, as well as the abstract sculptor David Smith (1906-65). As she had never heard of Pollock, and made a point of knowing most of New York's avant-garde, she decided to call unannounced at his studio one day in 1941 and asked to see his paintings. Impressed by what she sensed was a latent genius, she soon started dating him. During their early years together, both artists underwent a series of artistic developments. Although she acknowledged Pollock's superior artistic gift, she resisted being absorbed by him totally. She continued to admire the works of Henri Matisse (1869-1954) and Piet Mondrian (1872-1944), both artists Pollock had little time for. Yet Pollock's approach did encourage her to free herself from formal structured painting. In return, her discerning eye and regular criticism, as well as her determination to promote his career, was invaluable to his success. Moreover, there seems no doubt that her own drip painting technique - in her Little Image paintings - stimulated Pollock to adopt his own drip-style of abstract expressionist painting, which eventually made him a superstar. For more on his technique, see Jackson Pollock's paintings (1940-53).

Mature Career

Between 1945 and 1955 Krasner only had two solo exhibitions. She tended to rework many paintings and more than once destroyed whole bodies of work. She was slowly crafting her own style, ending with a series of collage paintings created in the 1950s which finally bought her to the attention of critics. In 1955 she held an exhibition at the Stable Gallery in Manhattan which established her as one of the most important abstract expressionists of her generation. The following year, her painting took a directional change, when she started to paint humans, animals and plants, alluding to the cycle of life, birth and death. Her relationship with Pollock was rapidly declining; he was drinking heavily, and had stopped painting.

After his death in a car accident the same year, Krasner produced some highly emotive works including The Seasons (1957, Whitney Museum) and Prophecy (1956, Private Collection). In the 1970s Krasner continued to explore nature derived themes. In 1965 a retrospective was held at the Whitechapel Gallery in London and in 1973 at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. Both helped to brand her own personal success and to dispel the association of being Mrs Pollock. Even so, anti-women prejudice kept Krasner outside of standard histories for many years - see feminist art for more on this subject. In 1983 a major retrospective of her paintings toured the Houston Museum of Fine Arts, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Chrysler Museum, the Phoenix Art Museum, and the Museum of Modern Art, New York. She died in New York in 1984. Krasner is now seen as one of the most important female 20th century painters of America.

 

 

Important Paintings

Paintings by Lee Krasner can be seen in many of the best art museums throughout the world. They include:

- Composition (1940-43) Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington DC.
- Milkweed (1955) Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo.
- Prophecy (1956) Private Collection.
- The Seasons (1957) Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.
- Gothic Landscape (1961) Tate Modern, London.
- Right Bird Left (1965) Ball State University Museum of Art, Muncie.
- Rising Green (1972, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York)
- Imperative (1976) National Gallery of Art, Washington DC.

Further Resources

Abstract Paintings (Top 100)
Abstract Art Movements

• For biographies of other female artists, see: Famous Painters.
• For more details of abstract expressionist painting, see: Homepage.


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