In 1931, when Mrs. Lorenzo E. Woodhouse dedicated Guild Hall as a cultural center for the community, The New York Times noted that Howard Russell Butler’s portrait of Thomas Moran, on exhibit in the galleries, was not a loan but an acquisition. “It marks the beginning of a permanent collection which it proposed to build up in Guild Hall,” the newspaper explained.
From the beginning over 80 years ago, the holdings have grown significantly in size and scope. In the early 1960’s, the collection began to focus on the artists who have lived and worked in the region, including some of the country’s most celebrated painters, sculptors, photographers and graphic artists. It was not until 1970 when the then Dewey Wing, with climate-controlled art storage and processing facilities, was added that collecting started in earnest. In 1973, the museum received the distinction of being accredited by the American Alliance of Museums, and it was reaccredited in 2010.
Today, the holdings of the 19th, 20th and 21st century art include paintings, sculpture, prints, watercolors, photographs and drawings by internationally distinguished artists such as Pollock, Krasner, deKooning, and Lichtenstein. The museum continues to acquire works by donation and acquisition. The year-round schedule of changing exhibitions includes both one-person and group shows, the annual Members Exhibition and the Student Arts Festival.
Peggy Bacon, born in Ridgefield, Connecticut, studied at the Art Students League with her parents, who were also artists. Her drypoints are indebted to the Ashcan artists and downtown bohemians John Sloan (with whom she studied) and George Bellows. Her work was promoted by Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, who succeeded in finding a market for Bacon’s prints. Bacon was also a gifted writer; her 1953 novel The Inward Eye earned an Edgar Allen Poe Mystery Award. For a time, she was married to the artist Alexander Brook, a Sag Harbor resident.
George Wesley Bellows was born in Columbus, Ohio. A student of Robert Henri and a member of the Ten (popularly known as the “Ashcan School”), he became famous for his paintings of city life, portraits and boxing scenes. The youngest artist ever elected to the National Academy, Bellows was an instructor at both the Art Students League and the Art Institute of Chicago. His father’s family resided in Hampton Bays, while his mother came from a whaling family in Sag Harbor. Bellows summered in the area.
Lynda Benglis was born in Louisiana in 1941. She studied at Newcombe College in New Orleans. Benglis built her studio in East Hampton in about 1980. While known primarily as a sculptor, she has worked in a wide range of materials, always pushed the limits of the medium.
Ross Bleckner was born in New York in 1949 and attended New York University and The California Institute of the Arts. He has shown regularly since 1975. Bleckner began summering on the East End in the early 80s and has a home in Sagaponack. Both an abstract and representational painter, Bleckner is known for his use of light and symbolism.
Alexander Brook was born in Brooklyn, New York, and became a well-known realist painter of landscapes, still-lifes and figures. Although his reputation has subsequently declined, he was one of the best-known American artists of his generation in the 1930s. He lived in Sag Harbor and his first wife was the artist Peggy Bacon.
Like Hans Namuth and Fred McDarrah, Rudy Burckhardt is known for his portrait photographs of the New York School of artists.
Howard Russell Butler graduated from Princeton University with a science degree before deciding to pursue a career in art in 1884. His travels led him to Mexico, where he studied briefly with Frederick Edwin Church, and to the Art Students League in New York City. An 1885 excursion to Paris exposed Butler to French influence and led to a life-long love of coastal scenes. Butler’s love of science never left him, and his works for the U.S. Naval Observatory have become treasures of the Ahyden Planetarium. He is known for having painted solar eclipses and moonscapes. The first president and founder of the American Fine Arts Society, he was elected to the National Academy of Design in 1902.
Henri Cartier-Bresson was born in 1908. A founder of the Magnum photo agency, he was one of the master photographers of this century. This photograph was given to the collection by the artist in 1977, after it was featured in the exhibition “Photography in the Hamptons: A Survey of Historical and Contemporary Camerawork.”
John Chamberlain was born in Rochester, Indiana, and studied at the Art Institute of Chicago, the University of Illinois, and Black Mountain College. While famous for his sculptures of crushed automobile parts, he also worked with paint, film, foam and paper bags. His work has affinities with Abstract Expressionism, Pop Art and Post-Minimalist developments, such as Process Art. His first automobile sculpture, Shortstop, was made in 1957 after a visit to the home of painter Larry Rivers in Southampton, where he recycled discarded auto body parts from the driveway. Chamberlain lived and worked on Shelter Island.
Chuck Close was born in Monroe, Washington and is associated with Pop Art and Photo-Realism. He is known for his monumental portrait “heads” of friends and acquaintances created from photographs and transferred to grids.
Stuart Davis was born in Philadelphia. Influenced by Cubism, he became a leading American abstractionist who developed his own unique style of Cubism (strongly influenced by Fernand Léger and the New York Armory Show of 1912) that also incorporated Realism. Local lore has it that, in life, Davis never visited East Hampton, yet his “residency” in the town is eternal. He wished to be buried in the Green River cemetery in Springs, where he lies not far from Jackson Pollock.
Elaine de Kooning was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York and became a noted Abstract Expressionist painter who also pursued portrait painting in a semi-realist style. Her art training began after high school when she attended the American Artists School and the Leonardo da Vinci School, where she studied with Conrad Marca-Relli. Unlike many of her contemporaries, she did not completely abandon realism and much of her career was devoted to portraiture for which she was known in the 1950s and 60s. One of her most famous commissions was a work for President John F. Kennedy, which was in process at the time of his assassination. When he died, she was so saddened that she put down her brushes for a year.
Willem de Kooning was born in the Netherlands and came to the United States in 1926. He befriended the artists John Graham and Arshile Gorky in the 1920s and worked for the Federal Art Project in the mid-1930s before it was discovered that he was an illegal immigrant ineligible to receive welfare. His first gallery exhibition was at the Egan Gallery in 1948. de Kooning painted all-over abstract expressionist paintings, such as Ashville (1949) and Excavation (1950), but he gained notoriety for his series of Women paintings. In the mid-1950s, de Kooning turned to more explicit landscape themes. A frequent visitor to the Hamptons in the 1940s and 50s, he completed his ship-like studio in The Springs in 1962, where he lived until his death in 1997.
Max Ernst was born in Germany and became one of the leading modernists in Europe in the early 20th century. A practitioner of Dada in Cologne, he became associated with André Breton and the Surrealists. Interned as an enemy alien in France at the outset of World War II, he was assisted to America by Peggy Guggenheim and became part of the exile community in New York after his arrival in 1942. He spent part of this time working in a studio on Long Island.
Audrey Flack was born in New York in 1931 and received a bachelor of fine arts from Yale University in 1952. She decided to pursue a career as a representational artist and studied anatomy at the Arts Students League. She acquired international recognition in the 60s and 70s as a photorealist painter. Since the 1980s, she has focused her attention on sculpture. Flack lives and works in East Hampton.
Jane Freilicher, influenced by Pierre Bonnard, paints still-lifes and landscapes in a modernist style. She divides her time between Greenwich Village and Water Mill, painting outdoor scenes from interior spaces. She was initially encouraged to become a painter by artist Nell Blaine. Freilicher was the 1996 Guild Hall Academy of the Arts Lifetime Achievement Award Winner in the Visual Arts.
April Gornik was born in 1953 in Ohio. She studied at the Cleveland Institute of Art and the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. Gornik landscapes are not based on nature but are more concerned with the sensation of experiencing a landscape.
Adolph Gottlieb was born in 1903 in New York. He began painting in the early 1920s, and studied at the Art Students League. During the Depression, Gottlieb was a member of The Ten with Willem de Kooning and Ilya Bolotowsky and later worked for the W.P.A. Federal Art Project. He continued to paint abstract paintings whose forms were at times translated into sculpture.
Robert Gwathmey was born in Richmond, Virginia and was known for his social realist depictions of life in the rural South. Many of his subjects were African-Americans, sharecroppers and agricultural laborers. His style was influenced by cubism and expressionism, not unlike the work of Jacob Lawrence. His son is the renowned architect Charles Gwathmey, partner of Gwathmey-Siegel Associates.
Jasper Johns was born in Allendale, South Carolina. Known as a painter, sculptor, and printmaker, Johns is associated with pictorial images of flags, targets and numbers, readymade emblems rendered in encaustic (wax) paint. Johns completed his first flag painting in 1955, alphabet subjects in 1956, sculpture in 1958, and lithographs in 1960.
William King was born in Jacksonville, Florida and attended the Cooper Union Art School, as well as the American Academy in Rome. Known for humorous figurative sculptures (which often bear an uncanny resemblance to their creator), King’s work is rooted firmly in the folk art genre. A generous supporter of Guild Hall, William King makes his home with his wife, the artist Connie Fox, in The Springs.
Lee Krasner was born in Brooklyn, New York and studied at Cooper Union, the Art Students League, and the National Academy of Design. During the 1930s, she worked as a muralist supervisor for the Federal Art Project. In the early 1940s, Krasner befriended Jackson Pollock and the couple settled in The Springs in 1945, marrying shortly thereafter. Shattered Color (1947) is an all-over drip painting that was executed on a horizontal surface.
Ibram Lassaw was born in Alexandria, Egypt in 1913. A founding member of the American Abstract Artists group in 1936 and an instrumental figure in the creation of the Artists Club in 1949, he is known for his bent and welded iron and bronze sculptures that look like drawings in space and are reminiscent of Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings. The titles of his works often reflect his interest in cosmology and outer space. Lassaw’s first one-man show was held at the Kootz Gallery in 1951, and he represented the United States at the Venice Biennale in 1954. He lived not far from the Pollock house in The Springs.
Roy Lichtenstein was born in New York in 1923. He received a master’s degree from Ohio State University in 1949. He is considered one of the founders of the Pop Art movement. It was in 1961 that he came into his own style of work and technique, which took its inspiration from comic strips and advertising.
Donald Lipski was born in Chicago in 1947. He studied at the University of Wisconsin and The Cranbrook Academy of Art. Lipski was influenced by Process artists Robert Morris and Eva Hesse, as well as the Pop and Minimalist movements.
Conrad Marca-Relli was born in Boston, Massachusetts. A neighbor of Jackson Pollock in The Springs, he became known for his monumental collages and is associated with the first-generation Abstract Expressionists.
Thomas Moran, the landscape painter and etcher, was born in Bolton, Lancashire, England. He studied in London, Paris, Italy and, under J. Hamilton, in Philadelphia. Traveling widely from 1881 to 1911, Moran lived in East Hampton from 1879 to 1899; his old studio still stands at 229 Main Street. He retired to California where he died in August, 1926 at the age of 89. His papers are kept in the Long island Collection of the East Hampton Library and many of his works are located at the Gilcrease Institute of American History and Art in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Hans Namuth was born in Essen, Germany and is best remembered for his photographs of artists, especially those of Jackson Pollock which contributed significantly to the myth of Pollock. Namuth had visited several Pollock shows at the Betty Parsons Gallery and was quickly fascinated. An opportunity to request a photo session came in 1950 during a Guild Hall museum opening in which Pollock was exhibiting. A cautious Namuth approached him and coaxed the usually reticent Pollock into allowing him to photograph him while painting. This resulted in a dramatic film and a sequence of photographs of Pollock demonstrating his technique of dripping paint on flat canvas.
Jackson Pollock was born in Cody, Wyoming and studied with the Regionalist painter Thomas Hart Benton at the Art Students League in New York City. By World War II, he shifted towards abstraction, banishing representational motifs from his art. Promoted by Peggy Guggenheim, he held his first one-man show at the Art of this Century Gallery in 1943. Pollock’s tumultuous lifestyle and heavy drinking prompted Lee Krasner, who became his wife in 1945, to seek a more personally and creatively tranquil environment. Through friends, they discovered the East End and a ramshackle farmhouse was promptly purchased – with $5,000 provided by Peggy Guggenheim – in The Springs. By 1947, he had begun working in his poured paint technique, and his abstract expressionist paintings were hailed by critic Clement Greenberg as a revolutionary development in modernist painting. The screenprint here was gifted to Guild Hall by Pollock after it failed to sell at the Annual Clothesline Art Sale.
Larry Rivers was born in New York City and studied under Hans Hofmann in Provincetown. Rivers was one of the first artists to reintroduce recognizable subject matter into vanguard art. Surprisingly, one of his earliest champions was Clement Greenberg, a critic usually associated with formalist abstract painting. A jazz musician as well as a painter, Rivers made his first impression in the community playing baritone saxophone at the Elm Tree Inn in nearby Amagansett. He settled in Southampton and associated with an eclectic circle of friends that included artists, musicians and modernist poets John Ashbery, Frank O’Hara and Kenneth Koch.
David Salle was born in Norman, Oklahoma and studied at the California Institute for the Arts under the conceptual artist John Baldessari. A post-modernist, he created paintings that juxtaposed seemingly unrelated images, often sexually oriented, from mass media. Sometimes called an appropriation artist, his work has been linked to the deconstructionist philosophy of Jacques Derrida.
Miriam Schapiro was born in New York City and was a successful Abstract Expressionist painter before she became famous as one of the leading feminist artists in America. She founded the Feminist Art Program at the California Institute of the Arts with Judy Chicago in 1972 and developed a decorative collage idiom inspired by traditional women’s work which she inventively termed “femmage.” One of the leading members of the Pattern and Decoration movement in the mid-1970’s, she lives with her husband, the artist Paul Brach, in Wainscott.
Andy Warhol was born Andrew Warhola in Pittsburgh in 1928 and began his career as a commercial illustrator. His first exhibition was in 1962 at the Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles, which showed all thirty-two of his Campbell’s Soup Cans. Warhol was a critical figure in the evolution of Pop art, making films, encouraging a rock band (the Velvet Underground) and mass-producing art using silkscreens in his studio provocatively called The Factory. Eothen (Greek for First Light), sitting high atop the bluffs of Montauk, was Warhol’s Long Island retreat.