Boca Raton Museum of Art

Boca Raton, FL



Will Barnet: A Timeless World

September 20 - November 5, 2000


Organized by the Montclair Art Museum, New Jersey, this exhibition features outstanding works from all phases of renowned painter-printmaker Will Barnet's prolific career from the 1920s to the present. Ranging from his earlier works as a leading member of the American Abstract Artists to the realist screenprints and paintings of the 60s and 70s, this exhibition examines the vital aesthetic connections between his abstract and realist work. (left: Woman Reading, 1965, oil on canvas, 45 x 35 inches, Collection of Will and Elena Barnet)

Born in Beverly, Massachusetts in 1911, Barnet became a greatly respected teacher at the Art Students League from the mid 30s to the 1980s. This exhibition presents Barnet's long, productive career as a unified whole, and examines a selection of his best works as part of a continuum, an ongoing search for classic structure.

Since his earliest days, Will Barnet has chosen subjects he knows most intimately as the subjects for his paintings and prints. The domestic life of the family is the most prominent recurring theme in Barnet's work, which explores the human condition, as well as relationships between man and nature. The artist's own family members are transformed into symbols of the universal family unit as the timeless essence of civilization. Finding that abstraction comes more naturally with forms that are so familiar, Barnet gradually pares his subjects to their essentials, without sacrificing their expressive qualities.

Will Barnet developed an interest in art at an early age. A late child with three older siblings, he was often left to his own devices. His father, a Russian immigrant, was a machinist who worked extremely long hours. In spite of their lack of time together a strong bond was formed and was probably responsible for Barnet's support for liberal causes especially in the area of working conditions. (left: Ruth Bowman, 1967, oil on canvas, 45 x 33 3/4 inches, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY)

With the encouragement of his school art teacher, Barnet began visiting local art museums as well as undertaking longer forays to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. By the age of twelve he had set up a studio in the basement of the family home where he prodigiously copied the work of the masters. Feeling restrained by the provincialism of his hometown, he enrolled in the Boston Museum School in 1928, beginning his formal art education. Upon completion of his studies, Barnet moved to New York where he joined the Art Students League and studied with Stuart Davis. Barnet was to remain in New York where he still lives today. (left: Women and the Sea, 1973, oil on canvas, 51 3/4 x 41 inches, Private Collection, Philadelphia)

Will Barnet's paintings draw their inspiration from many sources including such diverse origins as Daumier's social commentaries, Native American pictographs, the structure of Cezanne and Picasso, and the pared down figurations of Alex Katz. In turn, Barnet is able to digest these influences and bring forth images that articulate his particular vision of humankind.

The last ten years have been a re-statement, a summation for Will Barnet. In his paintings he has incorporated many of the elements employed in earlier series. He has developed a subtly balanced relationship of universal form with individualized content. Barnet engages the benefits of tradition and art history without having to sacrifice his modernist tendencies or the possibilities for pictorial invention. In a quiet way, his art proclaims the endurance of the human spirit in a fleeting and temporary world. (left: Soft Boiled Eggs, 1946, oil on canvas, 36 x 42 inchcs, Artist's Collection)

Gail Stavitsky, Ph.D., Chief Curator, The Montclair Art Museum, says "As painter, printmaker, and teacher, Will Barnet has made uniquely significant contributions to American art for seven decades. Barnet's work reflects his ongoing participation in certain vital currents of American art, from the social realism of the 1930s to abstraction in the '40s and '50s, followed by a renewed concern for figuration from the mid-1960s onwards. Although the range of Barnet's accomplishments is vast, his entire body of work is unified by the artist's sacred devotion to classical principles of order, stability, harmony, and grace. A master of architectonic pictorial organization, Barnet has been a devoté of art history, engaged with modernizing figurative traditions of portraiture and genre."

This exhibition and the accompanying catalogue are made possible with the generous support of the Abby and Mitch Leigh Foundation, Frank and Katherine Martucci, and Philippe Alexandre, Director of Special Projects, Tibor de Nagy Gallery. All Museum programs are made possible, in part, by the New Jersey State Council on the Arts/Department of State, a partner agency of the National Endowment for the Arts, PNC Bank, and Museum members. The presentation of this exhibition at the Boca Raton Museum of Art has been made possible, in part, by the Florida Department of State, Florida Arts Council, Division of Cultural Affairs and the Palm Beach County Cultural Affairs Council. (left: Cave, 1953, oil on canvas, 36 x 48 inches, Neuberger Art Museum SUNY, Purchase, NY)

Read more about the Boca Raton Museum of Art in Resource Library Magazine

Please click on thumbnail images bordered by a red line to see enlargements.

For further biographical information on selected artists cited above please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

This page was originally published in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information. rev. 4/4/11

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