Nell Blaine (1922 - 1996)
Oil on canvas
26 x 21 inches
Signed, titled, and dated verso
Nell Blair Walden Blaine was born in Richmond, Va., in 1922, and first studied at the Richmond School of Art, now part of Virginia Commonwealth University. She moved to New York in 1942 to study painting with Hans Hofmann and later studied etching and engraving at Atelier 17 with Stanley William Hayter.
During her first years in New York her work, which had previously been tightly realist, turned abstract, inspired by Mondrian, Leger and Jean Helion. At one time she was the youngest member of the American Abstract Artists. She was also a founding member of the Jane Street Gallery, one of Manhattan's earliest artists' cooperatives, and had her first solo show there in 1945.
Just as Blaine was becoming known as a promising abstract painter, and gaining the admiration of such critics as Clement Greenberg, she started to shift back to representational art. Inspired in part by a trip with Larry Rivers in 1950 to Paris, where she was especially impressed by the work of Vuillard and Bonnard, she immersed herself in the tradition of 19th-century European painting.
From the mid-1950's, she cultivated an increasingly painterly and colorful style, usually working directly from nature, or still life, with particular emphasis on the forms and hues of flowers. Her work retained a sense of all-over structure and pulsating energy that she nonetheless credited to abstract art. “'It all goes back to Mondrian,”' she would say.
In the 1950's Blaine was prominent among a circle of New York artists and poets that included John Ashbery, Frank O'Hara, Kenneth Koch, Larry Rivers, Jane Freilicher, Leland Bell, Louisa Matthiasdottir, Robert De Niro Sr. and Rudy Burckhardt. She had her first solo show of representational work at the Tibor de Nagy Gallery in 1953 and was represented by the Poindexter Gallery until it closed in 1978, and, in her later years, by the Fischbach Gallery. During the 1950's she supported herself as a commercial artist, designing brochures for art galleries. In 1955, she designed the original logo, column heads and layout for The Village Voice.
In 1957 Blaine was featured in Life magazine as one of five leading young female artists in America. In 1959, after several months of traveling and painting in Greece, she contracted severe bulbar polio on the island of Mykonos. ''To Nell Blaine,'' an exhibition organized at Poindexter to raise money for her hospital bills, included the work of 79 artists, including Saul Steinberg, Robert Motherwell, Elaine and Willem de Kooning, Philip Guston, Larry Rivers, Freilicher and Robert Rauschenberg.
After eight months in a New York hospital, including five months in an iron lung, she was told she would never paint again. By 1960, after intensive physical therapy, she had taught herself to paint with oils using her left hand, which was stronger, and was able to draw and make watercolors with her right. Her primary subjects became the sweeping views of the Hudson River and its flanking highways as seen from the window of her apartment on Riverside Drive, and the more intimate setting of her garden in Gloucester, where she bought a home in 1975. But she continued to travel and from 1964 and 1984 lived and worked abroad for months at a time.
Blaine's work is represented in many public and private collections and has been the subject of dozens of gallery exhibitions and museum shows, including a retrospective at the Muscarelle Museum of Art at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia.