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Grace Hartigan
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Timonium, MD
One of the second generation of Abstract Expressionist artists working in New York City following World War II, Grace Hartigan’s paintings evolved to include figures drawn from popular culture and observations of city life. She was also a distinguished educator who taught at the Maryland Institute College of Art, Baltimore, for five decades. Born in Newark in 1922, she lived in rural New Jersey. She married the first of her four husbands at age twenty-one. They set out for Alaska, but only got as far as Los Angeles. After the birth of a son and her husband’s entry into the U.S. Army she returned to Newark where she learned mechanical drafting at the Newark College of Engineering, found work at an aircraft factory and studied painting with Isaac Lane Muse (1906-1996). In 1945 she moved to Manhattan’s Lower East Side, continued to work as a mechanical draftsman and became part of the New York art world. During the late 1940s Hartigan became friends with the leading avant-garde artists of the time, including Jackson Pollock (1912-1956) and his wife Lee Krasner (1908-1984), Willem de Kooning (1904-1997) and his wife Elaine (1920-1989), Franz Kline (1910-1962), Robert Motherwell (1915-1991) and Mark Rothko (1903-1970). She socialized with them at the Cedar Street Tavern and joined their “Eighth Street Club.” Hartigan married the painter and sculptor Harry Jackson (1924-2011) in 1949; they spent much of the year painting in Mexico, but after their return to New York City in 1950 the married was annulled. Hartigan’s talent was soon recognized and appeared in important exhibitions in New York. Her work was included in the “New Talent” exhibition at the Kootz Gallery in 1950, organized by the critic Clement Greenberg (1909-1994) and the art Historian Meyer Shapiro (1904-1996), and the ground-breaking “Ninth Street Show” organized by the Eighth Street Club and the gallerist Leo Castelli (1907-1999) at the Stable Gallery in 1951. Hartigan’s first solo exhibition was held at the Tibor de Nagy Gallery in 1951 on Greenberg’s recommendation, followed by exhibitions at that gallery in six subsequent years. For the first exhibition there she used the pseudonym “George” to honor the women writers George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans Cross, 1819-1880) and George Sand (Armandine-Aurore-Lucille Dupin Dudevant, 1804-1876). New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) purchased her work The Persian Jacket (1952) from the 1953 Tibor de Nagy exhibition at the instigation of its famous director, Alfred H. Barr (1902-1981). Hartigan was the only female artist included in two important group exhibitions organized by Barr and the renowned curator Dorothy Miller (1904-2003). The “Twelve Americans” exhibit in 1956 at MOMA featured Hartigan and seven other painters (including Sam Francis (1923-1994), Philip Guston (1913-1980) and Kline) and four sculptors. Then in 1958 Hartigan was one of seventeen artists in “The New American Painting” exhibition organized by MOMA for travel to eight European cities, including Berlin, Paris and London. Other artists in the show included Francis, Guston, Kline, de Kooning, Motherwell, and Pollock. By the late 1950s Hartigan began turning to figuration in her work, earning the disapproval of Greenberg and some of her Abstract Expressionist friends. Hartigan married the gallerist Robert Keene in 1959, but divorced him in 1960 to marry Dr. William Price (d. 1981), an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins University who collected her art, and moved to Baltimore. Hartigan created a few prints during the early 1960s, including four screenprints for “Salute,” a book of poetry by James Schuyler (1923-1991) and nine lithographs printed and published by Universal Limited Art Editions. Hartigan began teaching at the Maryland Institute College of Art in 1962 and in 1965 became director of its graduate school, the Hoffberger School of Painting, continuing until 2007. Being somewhat isolated from the New York City art scene, Hartigan received less recognition and fewer exhibitions than some New York artists. A traveling retrospective exhibition of her works was mounted in 1981, shown in New York and three other cities, another retrospective show appeared at American University in Washington in 1987, followed by retrospectives in New York City in 1989 and 1990. The images in her work drawn from popular culture led her to be included among Pop Artists, for example in the exhibition “Hand-Painted Pop” at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, in 1993. Hartigan was also represented in the Whitney’s massive survey exhibition, “The American Century: Art and Culture 1950-2000, which opened in 1999. Hartigan died in a nursing home in Timonium, Md., near Baltimore, in 2008. (TNB 7/2014) Selected bibliography: Hirsh, Sharon L. Grace Hartigan: Painting Art History. Carlisle, PA: The Trout Gallery, Dickinson College, 2003.