John Atherton (1900 - 1952)
Variation on a Theme by Weston No. 2, c. 1944
Tempera on board
8 x 10 inches
Signed at lower right:: Atherton
Titled on labels from the San Francisco Museum of Art (verso)
Combed gesso style frame
Julien Levy Gallery, New York, New York
San Francisco Museum of Art, 1944
John Atherton was a technically brilliant artist with a sure sense of draftsmanship which he used to depict a world of familiar things made unfamiliar by design. Objects in Atherton’s paintings are rendered with great attention to naturalism and precision of detail, yet always imbued with a sense of mystery.
Considered one of the Magic Realists, Atherton was one a group of artists who turned away from abstraction and sought inspiration from the masters of the Italian Renaissance. Yes this was classicism with a twist, as perfectly rendered figures inhabit a surreal world with fraught emotional components. Indeed, Magical Realism can be considered an off-shoot of surrealism, with the disconnect in the mood rather than in the distorted object itself.
Atherton had his first solo exhibition at the Julian Levy Gallery in New York in 1938, a gallery which was home to other avant garde artists including Joseph Cornell and Max Ernst. He was included in the landmark exhibition “American Realists and Magic Realists” at the Museum of Modern Art in 1943, where he exhibited alongside George Tooker and Jared French. In the catalogue, Atherton expressed his belief that “in the end the painting must be felt, not analyzed.”