Fairfield Porter 1907 —1975

Biography

"Miraculously, Porter found that inspiration in December 1938 at the Art Institute of Chicago at an exhibition of the Intimist painters Pierre Bonnard and Edouard Vuillard. 'I had never seen so many Vuillards before .... And I looked at the Vuillards and thought, Maybe it was just a sort of revelation of the obvious, and Why does one think of doing anything else when it's so natural to do this? When Bill [de Kooning] was first influenced, you know, it was Picasso he was emulating. With me it was Vuillard.'"

"As a painter, he was studiously casual...he painted what was in or around the house or yard, and whoever was willing to pose."__ Rackstraw Downes

Porter's favorite statement about painting came from Henri Matisse:


"Every corner of the canvas should be alive."
Porter's work adheres to this idea, whether the painting is a still life, a landscape, a portrait, or a scene from everyday life.

 

Fairfield Porter was one of the twentieth century's most interesting, intelligent, and enigmatic artists. Although he was of the same generation as the Abstract Expressionists, and was good friends with many of them, especially Willem de Kooning, Porter was strictly a realist. A noted art critic who wrote for Art News and The Nation, Porter was also a conservationist, activist, and polemicist who opposed nuclear arms, pesticides, urban sprawl, and the Vietnam War. Porter's art and art criticism combine to form one of the most coherent and independent interpretations of art and art history that any American artist has ever advanced, and he stands today as one of the twentieth century's most prescient art observers.

Fairfield Porter was born in Winnetka, Illinois in 1907, a small suburb north of Chicago. His paternal grandmother had owned land in Chicago that eventually became its Loop area, which provided the Porter family with the financial means for a comfortable lifestyle. Fairfield's parents were literate and well educated. His father, James Porter, was an architect who designed the family's Greek Revival home, and his mother, Ruth, was a politically progressive woman who supported the suffrage movement and racial equality. Porter's family traveled extensively during his youth, so that by the time he was a teenager, he had been exposed to a wide variety of arts and ideas.

In 1924, Porter, like his father and grandfather before him, attended Harvard University. It was there that he received his first art education, although it had little direct impact on him. Following his graduation in 1928, Porter moved to New York and began taking classes at the Art Students League. Porter was eager to study there with various teachers who were also professional artists, such as Boardman Robinson and Thomas Hart Benton. However, Porter was soon disappointed by the curriculum at the League, which emphasized life drawing to the exclusion of painting. Porter later recalled that he abandoned the league because,

"Nobody taught painting there. I mean you could paint if you wanted to. But they didn't know how to paint. There wasn't anybody in the League who knew how to paint. . . . I don't think anybody in America knew how to paint in oils at that time" (interview with Paul Cummings, June 6, 1968, Archives of American Art, Washington, D.C., as quoted in Spike, op. cit., p. 34).

In the 1930s, struggling to get his professional painting career off the ground, Porter tried his hand at progressive, social arts, painting murals and designing magazine covers for the Socialist party and other leftist organizations. He also made his first foray into art criticism, contributing an essay on mural painting to Arise in 1935. He began to write art criticism-an interest that culminated in his position as associate editor at ARTnews (from 1951) and as a frequent contributor to periodicals such as The Nation . Despite Porter's many connections to, and sympathies with, various left-wing political factions in New York, he never identified himself as belonging to any one group. This was to be a recurring theme in Porter's life, in which he circulated freely among various social and intellectual groups and movements without ever committing himself completely to any one of them.

In 1938, Porter saw an exhibition of paintings and prints by Pierre Bonnard and Edouard Vuillard at the Art Institute of Chicago, an eye-opening experience which changed the course of his style of painting. Although the effects of seeing these pictures didn't fully materialize until later in his career, Porter cited Vuillard as the single greatest influence upon his own work. He recalled:

"Another reason I paint the way I do is that in 1938 we were living in Chicago and in the Art Institute in Chicago there was an exhibition of Vuillard and Bonnard, both of them. I had never seen so many Vuillards before or maybe so many Bonnards before. And I looked at the Vuillards and thought - maybe it was just a sort of revelation of the obvious and why does one think of doing anything else when it's so natural to do this." (Cummings interview, as quoted in Spike, op. cit., p. 62).

Porter understood his own work as an extension of the sensual and representational achievements of Vuillard, recording impressions at hand with a confident use of color and light. He eschewed traditional techniques of contour and form, and the inherent lack of spontaneity that follows, that he associated with artists such as Thomas Hart Benton. Thus, his pictures have a freshness and vitality similar to the abstract painters of his generation, but they are grounded in a less theoretical, more realistic approach. Porter's oil paintings are immediate, sensual impressions of the world immediately before him, unconstrained by any adherence to a particular theory.

Like many of the abstract painters, Porter appreciated the materiality of paint and its effects on the surface of the canvas. He painted with Maroger's Medium, an additive to oil paints that makes them more fluid and freely brushed onto the canvas. Although Maroger's was available commercially, Porter always preferred to make his own. His paintings have rich surface textures that recall not only Bonnard and Vuillard, but also Diego Velázquez, whom Porter admired.

Introduced by his friend, Willem de Kooning, Porter began to exhibit at the Tibor de Nagy Gallery in New York, which was known primarily as a venue for Abstract Expressionist painting. Porter's work, largely landscape pictures of the areas of Southampton, New York, where he and his family lived, eventually gathered a following of critics and collectors who otherwise had interest in non-objective painting.

It was during this time that the roots of Porter's career as a critic also began to grow. He took issue with contemporary art critics, including Clement Greenberg, George L. K. Morris, Wyndham Lewis, and other proponents of Abstract Expressionism, whom he saw as "manifesto critics," imposing personal theories of art upon the work they reviewed. Porter felt about criticism as he did about his art: that it should be as free of dogmatic adherence to theory as possible, and that art should be considered on its own merits. Porter crossed swords with these writers on many occasions, and he often wrote to the publications that printed their essays to object to their points of view. However, he left the intellectual sparring out of his own essays. Porter's criticism is thoughtful and sensitive, and exhibits his encyclopedic grasp of art history and a depth and breadth of knowledge about contemporary art that few others shared. He wrote for Art News from 1951 to 1959, and The Nation from 1959 to 1961, when he stopped writing regular columns so that he could devote himself fully to painting. (For a thorough reading of Porter's art criticism, see Rackstraw Downes, ed., Fairfield Porter: Art In Its Own Terms, Selected Criticism 1935-1975 [1979].)

Porter did his best work during the last fifteen years of his life, until his death in 1975. His style loosened somewhat, and he incorporated more abstract forms and colors and recorded a freer and more immediate impression of his subjects. In his lifelong pursuit of realistic, non-abstract subjects, however, Porter was far ahead of his time, particularly in painting portraits of his family and friends, a genre that wasn't taken seriously by the art world until years later.

Fairfield Porter's work has been the subject of numerous monographs including: Fairfield Porter Raw by Klaus Ottmann; Fairfield Porter, 2010: Material Witness: The Selected Letters of Fairfield Porter, 2005; An American Classic by John T. Spike (1992: Harry N. Abrams); Fairfield Porter: A Catalogue Raisonné of the Paintings, Watercolors and Pastels by Joan Ludman (2001, (Hudson Hills Press); Painting naturally: Fairfield Porter & his influences Parrish Art Museum 1984; Fairfield Porter: Art In Its Own Terms. Selected criticism 1935-1975; Fairfield Porter an American Painter by William Agee, 1993; Fairfield Porter, Boston Museum of Fine Arts; Fairfield Porter (1907-1975) Realist Painter in an Age of Abstraction Paul Cummings; Fairfield Porter: The Collected Poems and Drawings; Porter pairings: A selection of works by Fairfield Porter from the Parrish Art Museum, Southampton, New York by William Agee n.d.; Fairfield Porter Retrospective Exhibition: Heckscher Museum 1975; and, Art and Friendship: A Tribute to Fairfield Porter by Helen and Prescott Schutz Harrison. Written by Fairfield Porter in addition to art commentary and art reviews spanning 25 years, is Thomas Eakins, (The Great American Artists Series). Fairfield Porter papers, 1888-2001, are at the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

An important source for modern and contemporary American & European Art in East Hampton, New York & worldwide, Janet Lehr Fine Arts' spectacular wide-ranging inventory consists of unique paintings, drawings, large & small scale sculpture, monotypes, prints and photographs  by Ansel Adams, Milton Avery, Richard Avedon, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Romare Bearden, Fernando Botero, Cartier-Bresson, Marc Chagall, Alvin Langdon Coburn, Willem De Kooning, Richard Diebenkorn, Thomas Eakins, Childe Hassam, David Hockney, Winslow Homer, Wolf Kahn, Jeff Koons, Fernand Leger, Roy Lichtenstein, Man Ray, Thomas Moran, Henry Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Jackson Pollock, Robert Rauschenberg, Mark Rothko, Cindy Sherman, Charles Sheeler, Bert Stern, Alfred Stieglitz, Andy Warhol, Carleton E Watkins, Tom Wesselmann and Andrew Wyeth.

To bookmark Janet Lehr Fine Arts Gallery website: http://www.janetlehrfinearts.com

View synoptic biography below.

Untitled (Porter Barn - Southampton)

Untitled (Porter Barn - Southampton)
c. 1950
Oil on canvas on board

19.75 x 23.75 inches
Signed.
Download Fact Sheet

Museum Collections    

 

USA
Ackland Art Museum, Chapel Hill NC
Boca Raton Museum of Art, Boca Raton FL
Columbia Museum of Art, Columbia, SC
Flint Institute of Arts, Flint, MI
Frederick R Weisman Art Museum, Minneapolis MN
Georgia Museum of Art, Athens GA
Heckscher Museum of Art, Huntington, NY
Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, Kansas City, MO
Kresge Art Museum, East Lansing MI
Lauren Rogers Museum of Art, Laurel, MS
Mead Art Museum, Amherst, MA
Memorial Art Gallery of the University of Rochester, Rochester, NY
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, NY
Middlebury College Museum of Art, Middlebury VT
New Britain Museum of American Art, New Britain, CT
New York University Collection/Grey Art Gallery, New York NY
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia PA
Pensacola Museum of Art, Pensacola, FL
Portland Art Museum, Portland ME
San Diego Museum of Art, San Diego CA
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA)
Sheldon Museum of Art, Lincoln, NE
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Terre Haute IN
Snite Museum of Art, Notre Dame IN
Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art, Loretto PA
Spencer Museum of Art, Lawrence, KS
The Brooklyn Museum of Art, Brooklyn NY
The Dayton Art Institute, Dayton OH
The Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit, MI
The Hickory Museum of Art, Hickory NC
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City MO
The Parrish Art Museum, Southampton, NY
The Toledo Museum of Art, Toledo OH
Tyler Museum of Art, Tyler, TX
University of Wyoming Art Museum, Laramie WY
USC Fisher Gallery, Los Angeles CA
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York City, NY
Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven CT

 
Solo Exhibitions (selected)   
       

2010

Fairfield Porter: Raw-The Creative Process of an American Master, Parrish Art Museum, Southampton, NY (solo)
Fairfield Porter (1907-1975) , Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, New York, NY (solo)

2007
Gallery Artists - Alexandre Gallery, New York City, NY
Fairfield Porter: Inside and Outside the Artist's Studio - Parrish Art Museum, Southampton, NY

2003
Fairfield Porter: A Life in Art, 1907 - 1975 - Traveling exhibition: Portland Museum of Art, Portland, ME; Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Boston MA; Whitney Museum of American Art; McNay Art Museum, San Antonio, TX

2002
Fairfield Porter - Familiar Spaces - Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, Kansas City, MO

2001
Fairfield Porter - Drawing from the Estate - Hirschl & Adler Galleries, New York City, NY
Fairfield Porter - Robert Miller Gallery, New York City, NY

2000
Fairfield Porter: A Life in Art - AXA Gallery (fromer Equitable Gallery), New York City, NY

1995        
Fairfield Porter : Drawings and Poetry, Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, New York, NY (solo)

1993        
Fairfield Porter: An American Painter 1950-1975 - Frost Art Museum, Miami, FL
On Paper: The Figure in Twentieth Century American Art, Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, New York, NY   

1991        
Drawings By, Proctor Art Center, Bard College, Annadale, NY   

1987
Still Life, Rahr-West Art Museum, Manitowoc, WI
Compass Rose Gallery, Inaugural Exhibition, Chicago, IL (solo)   

1986
The Late Watercolors, Katonah Gallery, Katonah, NY (solo)
Aspen Art Museum, Aspen CO
Art Museum of Florida International University, Miami, FL
Objects Observed, Summit Art Center, Summit, NJ
Drawings and Drawings, Hudson River Museum, Yonkers, NY

1985
The Realist Landscape, Robeson Center Gallery, Newark, NJ
Hirschl & Adler Modern, New York, NY (solo)   

1984
Whitney Museum of American Art, Fairfield County, CT (solo)
Paintings and Works on Pater', Arts Club of Chicago, Chicago, IL (solo)
Art and Friendship: A Tribute to Fairfield Porter, Guild Hall Museum, East Hampton, NY   

1983
Retrospective, organized by Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA (solo)   

1982
Haus Olen Kunst, Munich, Germany   

1981
Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Philadelphia, PA
The Contemporary American Landscape, Hirschl & Adler Galleries, New York, NY   

1979
Mickelson Gallery, Washington, DC (solo)
Artist's Choice Museum, New York, NY (solo)
Hull Gallery, Washington, DC (solo)
Gross-McCleaf Gallery, Philadelphia, PA (solo

1968
Fairfield Porter participated in the Venice Biennale

1966-1975
Hirschl and Adler Galleries

 

Group shows   (Selected)

2010
WaterWays - The Rose Art Museum, Waltham, MA
Changing Soil: Contemporary Landscape Painting (Za Fukei) - Nagoya - Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Nagoya
The Language Of Flowers - CRG Gallery, New York City, NY

2009
Lori Bookstein Fine Art at ArtHamptons - Lori Bookstein Fine Art, New York City, NY
HOME - Westport Arts Center, Westport, CT
A Sense of Place - Lori Bookstein Fine Art, New York City, NY

2008
Andrew Forge/Fairfield Porter: Works on Paper - Betty Cuningham Gallery, New York City, NY
Stoned or Impregnated, New York Lithography, ca. 1960 - The William Benton Museum of Art, Storrs, CT

2007
Warhol sobre Warhol - La Casa Encendida, Madrid
Contemporary Painters and Their Influences - Contemporary Art Center of Virginia, Virginia Beach, VA
Selected Works by Gallery Artists - Alexandre Gallery, New York City, NY

2006
Painting Summer in New England - Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, MA
Fairfield and Friends - Art from the Commerce Bank Collection - Wichita Art Museum WAM, Wichita, KS

2005
Continuum : 130th Anniversary of the Art Students League of New York - ACA Galleries, New York City, NY

2004
The Undiscovered Country - Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, CA
A Century of Collecting - Heckscher Museum of Art, Huntington, NY
Everyday Mysteries: Modern and Contemporary Still Life - DC Moore Gallery, New York City, NY
Interiors/Exteriors, - Sioux City Art Center, Sioux City, IA
Under $2,000 Albers < Zaugg - Brooke Alexander Editions, New York City, NY

2003
Staff Selections - Permanent Collection - Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, Kansas City, MO
Painting and Sculpture From The Harn Museum Collection - Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art, Gainesville, FL

2000
The First Fifty Years - Tibor de Nagy Gallery, New York City, NY
Art at Work: Forty Years of the Chase Manhattan Collection - Queens Museum of Art (QMA), New York City, NY

1999
Childe Hassam Robert Gwathmey Fairfield Porter Ben Shahn & Jules Pascin - ACA Galleries, New York City, NY

1987
The Window in Twentieth-Century Art - Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, Houston, TX

1983
American Still Life: 1945-1983 - Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, Houston, TX

1967
1967 Annual Exhibition of Contemporary American Painting - Whitney Museum of American Art, New York City, NY

1966
Society for Contemporary Art 26th Annual - The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL

1961
American Exhibition 64th Annual - The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL

1951
9th Street Art Exhibition - - 9th Street Art Exhibition, New York City, NY (closed, 1951)

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