Jared French (1905 - 1987)
Urban Beach Scene, 1934
Oil pastel on paper
16 x 25 3/8 inches
Ludins style frame
Roberto Giannotta, by inheritance
Private collection, Vermont
The enigmatic painter Jared French painted in a taut, highly realist style often with intense psychosexual undertones. French is often termed a magical realist, as were his close friends George Tooker and Paul Cadmus, though all three dis- liked the term. French was strongly influenced by the volumetric, linear, and static qualities of the art of the Italian Renaissance. His art often has a tableaux-like quality, as if figures were arrayed on a stage.
French was born in Ossining, New York, in 1905. He received a BA from Amherst College, and went on to study painting and etching at the Art Student’s League in New York City beginning in 1925. While at the League, French met fellow artist Paul Cadmus, who was to become his lover and life-long friend. The two travelled extensively in Italy, and extensively studied the old masters. French was particularly influenced by the figurative boldness of Piero della Francesca, Andrea Mantegna, and Lucca Signorelli.
Back in the United States, French began doing murals for the Public Works of Art Project under the New Deal, executed in an American Scene style of painting. French also exhibited in a number of major group exhibitions, including the Corcoran Gallery annual exhibitions, as well as at the annual exhibitions of the Art Institute of Chicago and the National Academy of Design. In 1937, he married fellow artist Margaret Hoening. That same year, French, his wife Margaret, and Paul Cadmus began exhibiting together as a group called “PAJAMA,” which was an acronym of their names.
French soon began working in egg tempera, a medium favored by the old masters, and one which required precision of application and favored a meticulous approach. This shift in medium was accompanied by a stylistic shift, and French began to create symbolically packed compositions with often opaque meaning. His works focus on the human body, and specifically on an idealized image of youth and virility.
The present work, Urban Beach Scene, has the panoramic qualities of a mural, all executed in a typically precise manner in pastel. Here, French has packed the composition with active figures, boys and girls flirting, diving into the water off a pier, and otherwise fooling around. City skyscrapers form the backdrop to this busy scene of the young, restless, and working class escaping the heat of the sidewalks to play by the water. The city is surely Manhattan, though French has exaggerated the proximity of the piers to tall buildings. Regardless, the image fairly hums with an urban, ebullient energy.