The Book, Cat, & Cat Book Lovers Almanac

of historical trivia regarding books, cats, and other animals. Actually this blog has evolved so that it is described better as a blog about cats in history and culture. And we take as a theme the advice of Aldous Huxley: If you want to be a writer, get some cats. Don't forget to see the archived articles linked at the bottom of the page.

May 25, 2016

May 25 1911

[Will Barnet (May 25 1911 to November 13 2012) was born].... at Beverly, Massachusetts, into a family of Russian and East European immigrants. His father was a machinist in the local shoe factory, a small-town future Barnet railed against. He learned of art’s potential at an early age, both in the public library and in the town’s cemetery, where he studied the engravings on colonial gravestones.

His Telegraph obituary continues, mentioning that Barnet:

...won a scholarship [in 1930 to New York City's] independent school, the Art Students League. The institution was to become his second home; he learnt printmaking there and for more than four decades was a cherished teacher to an array of 20th-century masters, including Cy Twombly and Mark Rothko.

Barnet was as fluid an artist as he was consistent a teacher. He proved a creative chameleon for eight decades, with work spanning social realism, symbolism, portraiture and abstraction.


..... [In] 1935 he married a fellow painter, Mary Sinclair, with whom he had three sons. However, by the early 1950s they had divorced and Barnet had remarried. Elena Ciurlys, his second wife, and their daughter Ona became the endearing yet pensive subject matter for many of his future paintings and drawings. “There is always an undercurrent of uncertainty and introspection that pervades his work. There is such a hot emotional core to it,” assessed John Driscoll, of Driscoll Babcock Galleries, who represented Barnet ...

It was to be his poetic depictions of homesteads and family which finally brought him national acclaim in the 1970s. These included perhaps his most famous work, Woman Reading, in which Barnet’s wife, Elena, reclines in bed lost in a book and the company of her cat, Madame Butterfly. Barnet’s combination of bold block-colour schemes and intimate subject matter, composed with pared-down Japanese and Scandinavian influences, proved extremely popular. His works in this style were reprinted in poster editions across America.






.....“We sold paintings to both public and private collections and there was always great interest,” stated Driscoll. “We did the Art Dealers Association of America fair and at one point we put up five or six of his paintings and we sold all of them. Yoko Ono bought one, a major trustee from the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston bought one.”

Barnet worked until the end of his life, even after losing the use of a leg in 2003. In his final years, he returned to abstraction, this time full of summer hues. It was the latest uncompromising shift in a lifetime spent bucking the trend: he famously clashed with Willem de Kooning over personal inspirations (Barnet proposed Vermeer, to de Kooning’s horror). Accepting a commission to paint Gypsy Rose Lee’s portrait for rent money was the extent to which he would compromise his integrity.....



Will Barnet painted other cats, besides his wife's above. In 2011 the President of the United States awarded Barnet the National Medal of Arts.

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