Brock & Co.

Albert Eugene Gallatin (1881 - 1952)
Composition, 1941
Oil on canvas
16 x 12 inches
Signed and dated verso: A. E. Gallatin / Oct. 1941
Art Deco style frame
Born in 1881 in Villanova, Pennsylvania, Gallatin was an influential art collector and abstract painter. He was descended from a distinguished family whose ancestry included Albert Gallatin, Secretary of the Treasury under Thomas Jefferson and founder of New York University. Financially independent at a young age, Gallatin was able to abandon his law studies to pursue art collecting and writing about art. His earliest acquisitions and articles focused on Aubrey Beardsley and James A. M. Whistler and later expanded to include the American Impressionists. In 1919 Gallatin organized the Allied War Salon in New York with Duncan Phillips and Augustus Vincent Tack. Gallatin became a member of Katherine Drier's avant-garde Societe Anonyme in 1921, and during the following decade was increasingly drawn to modernist European art, especially cubist paintings, making yearly buying trips to Paris. At New York University Gallatin founded the Gallery of Living Art (renamed the Museum of Living Art in 1936), which was devoted exclusively to showing works by contemporary artists. By 1932, Gallatin began deaccessioning representational works from his own collection in favor of abstract paintings.

Gallatin began to paint in 1936 and the following year joined the American Abstract Artists Group. The wealthy, patrician Gallatin cut an unusual figure among the younger, liberal members of this group; however, he shared their enthusiasm for avant-garde styles in art. A perfectionist, Gallatin would sometimes spend years on a painting, endeavoring to achieve the ultimate in spare simplicity, crisp line, and elegant, subtle color. In style, his painting was indebted to synthetic cubism, a technique that appealed to his intellectual nature because of its emphasis on geometric shapes held in balance in the composition.

Gallatin's late paintings also reflect the ideals of his collection, which was devoted to abstraction. Reputedly quiet and self-effacing about his own art, Gallatin considered his painting an activity that enhanced his understanding of the work he collected. Believing that the more separated art was from life, the more it represented aesthetic truth, he avoided descriptive titles for his works, preferring instead to give them the unspecific title “Composition.”