Suzy Frelinghuysen 1911 —1988



Suzy Frelinghuysen is, with Georgia O'Keeffe, one of the two most important American women artists of the first half of the 20th century. A prominent and highly representative member of the Abstract American Artists group in New York City in the 1930's and 1940's, examples of her work are rare and highly desirable.

Born Estelle Condit Frelinghuysen, Suzy - as she was known in the art world and to friends - was the granddaughter of Frederick T. Frelinghuysen, who served as U.S. Secretary of State under President Chester A. Arthur, and the grandniece of Theodore Frelinghuysen, the second chancellor of New York University and a U.S. Senator from New Jersey. Raised at Oakhurst, her family's estate in Elberton, New Jersey, and in Princeton, she moved to New York at the age of 18 or 20.

As a child Frelinghuysen displayed great love for opera and took voice lessons. She did not begin to paint in earnest until her marriage to the abstract painter, collector, and critic George L. K. Morris in 1935. Her art had been realistic until that time, but Morris' own painting and his enthusiasm for European modernists led Frelinghuysen to begin working in an abstract Cubist style. Soon afterwards she began producing Cubist collages that often incorporate fragments of opera programs and scores. Acclaimed as a visual artist in the late 1930's and throughout the 1940's, she readily admitted that Morris had shaped her understanding of modernism. Unlike his rigorous geometric paintings, however, her collages display a certain whimsy. Her playful appropriations of passages from works by Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, and Juan Gris not only reveal a sophisticated knowledge of abstract art, but also inject wit into an abstruse artistic discipline .

Although Morris was very much occupied with the Gallery of Living Art, The Museum of Modern Art, artists' organizations, writing criticism and art theory for a number of publications, and, to some extent, political issues, Frelinghuysen did not share an enthusiasm for this kind of involvement. Her political convictions were conservative at a time when many artists leaned, to one degree or another, toward the radical left, and her interest in art was personal and intuitive, not public and theoretical.

Frelinghuysen became a member of the American Abstract Artists group in April 1937, not long after the founding of the organization, and, beginning with the 1938 Municipal Art Galleries exhibition, showed in most of the AAA exhibitions thereafter. She numbered among her closest artist friends Ilya Bolotowsky, A. E. Gallatin, Charles Shaw, and Esphyr Slobodkina. Gallatin acquired her Composition-Toreador Drinking for the Gallery of Living Art Collection.

Soon after its founding in 1936, she became a member of, and yearly exhibitor with the Abstract American Artists in New York City, and one of her patron's was artist and philanthropist Peggy Guggenheim. However, unlike many members of American Abstract Artists, Frelinghuysen was not a political activist, and her work had only personal meaning with no ideological undertones. A reviewer of the Whitney Museum of American Art annual of 1944, described her work as the "outstanding item" of the 1936 exhibit. In 1938, the Museum of Living acquired a collage, "Carmen", but the museum closed before a projected show planned for her work in 1943 could take place.

She joined the Federation of Modern Painters and Sculptors when it was established in 1940 in the aftermath of the political upheavals in the American Artists' Congress. At the 1944 annual exhibition of the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, her work was singled out as the "outstanding item of the showing." Gallatin had acquired her collage Carmen for his Museum of Living Art in New York in 1938, and he was planning a solo exhibition of her work for 1943. Unfortunately the museum closed before the project could be realized.

When Frelinghuysen began working in an abstract manner, it was the lucid Synthetic Cubism of Gris in the late teens and twenties that interested her the most. She also responded to the post‑World War I work of Braque. Her oil and collage paintings of the forties shore with Gris a cool elegance of color, contour, and geometric form, but differ from his work in their enrichment of surface and rather tart hues. Furthermore, Frelinghuysen did not approach her art with the kind of intellectuality that characterizes Gris. Rather, she has said she preferred an intuitive process in which she adjusted the formal elements of her pictures "to make something I liked the look of."' Deftly employing the plastic elements of corrugated paper, snippings from magazines and printed papers, and oil paints, she created some of the most elegant and restrained collages of the period.

In Untitled, c.1950's, a carefully conceived arrangement of forms is further abstracted as a collage landscape, perhaps reflecting Frelinghuysen's belief that "most art comes from nature." Her position on the issue of the origin of art forms - one shared by Morris, Gallatin, Shaw, Arshile Gorky, and Stuart Davis, among others - reflected the foundations of her aesthetic ideas in Parisian Cubism, an art that abstracted from nature and did not seek to invent new forms not based themselves ultimately on objects in the natural world. That Frelinghuysen's contribution to Synthetic Cubism came at a late moment in the history of the style does not obviate the poetry resulting from her mastery of this visual vocabulary.


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c. 1950
Oil and collage on board

13.25 x 28.75 inches

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