Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Letters and Paintings from Groundbreaking Mid-Century Artist Perle Fine

Perle Fine

Letters and Paintings from Groundbreaking Mid-Century Artist Perle Fine


Perle Fine, a painter whose work is held in the permanent collection, was active in the avant-garde art scene in New York City from the 1920s through the 1960s. But despite her connection to well-known artists and her success in exhibiting her work, Fine is not well known among 20th-century American abstract painters.

Born in Boston, she moved to New York City in the late 1920s and settled in Greenwich Village, where she was soon exposed to the avant-garde works on view in galleries and at the Museum of Modern Art. In 1933, she became a student of the German painter Hans Hoffman, whose painting school was across the street from her home. Along with Lee Krasner and Larry Rivers, she learned the principles of abstract painting and embarked on her career. In 1943, she received a grant from the Guggenheim Foundation and soon began exhibiting at museums and galleries in New York City.

Fine’s work was presented in a loan exhibition at the Museum of Non-Objective Painting in 1943. Her painting Heroique earned the attention of the press, including the influential New York Times art critic Edward Alden Jewell, who described her work as more original than other artists influenced by Vasily Kandinsky. In 1946, she began to have solo exhibitions and was invited by Willem de Kooning to join “The Club”—the discussion group formed by abstract painters and sculptors in the downtown scene.

Fine’s Artist File contains correspondence between Fine and Hilla Rebay from 1946, where Fine describes her almost religious devotion to and passionate advocacy of non-objective art—sentiments that echoed Rebay’s own. Rebay responds by congratulating Fine for resisting the seductions of Surrealism and remaining true to abstract painting. Rebay also congratulates herself for having “in 1914 invented Non-objectivity for [far?] before I knew Kandinsky existed . . . and now to see how many artists profit from this nerve wracking battle to establish it internationally . . .”

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