SUNDAY, APRIL 10, 2022
Long Island female artists on the landscape of inspiration
By Deidre S. Greben Special to Newsday Updated April 10, 2022
More than 50 years after art historian Linda Nochlin famously inquired in her ARTnews magazine article “Why have there been no great women artists?,” the Long Island Museum is offering up its own examination of the question. Drawing from its coffers, nearby institutions and private collections, “Two Centuries of Long Island Women Artists, 1800-2000,” on view through Sept. 4, renders a fuller picture of local talent and the impact Long Island women painters and sculptors have had on the art-historical canon.
In early 19th-century America “there were not very many female artists, but not many male artists either,” explained the museum’s deputy director, Joshua Ruff. “The art world was itself being formed.”
Still, newly founded schools, such as New York City’s National Academy of Design and the Art Students League, limited the participation of female students, whose creative expression had largely been confined to embroidery and watercolors. In contrast, women were more welcomed at art establishments across Long Island, such as William Merritt Chase’s Summer School in Shinnecock Hills, that emerged with the popularity of American Impressionism and the practice of painting out-of-doors.
The appeal of the bucolic Long Island landscape did not diminish with the onslaught of Modernism at the turn of the 20th century, serving artists as both a respite and as a source of inspiration. “When I’m out on Long Island, I’d have to wear a blindfold to avoid the landscape. It’s the very air one breathes,” reads a quote by Jane Freilicher on one of the show’s wall panels.
While the New York School artist gained a following with her distinctive painterly realism, other modernists made their mark on different regions of Long Island—Helen Torr and her semiabstract canvases on the North Shore township of Huntington, for instance, or Grace Hartigan, Lee Krasner and Elaine de Kooning, all of whom helped to establish the East End as a hotbed of Abstract Expressionism.
Along the way and since then, there have been countless others. The exhibition’s roster of more than 70 artists includes both the less familiar, such as Edith Mitchill Prellwitz (whose great-great-granddaughter Wendy’s work is also in the exhibition), and higher-profile names like photorealist pioneer Audrey Flack, the first woman to appear in “Janson’s History of Art,” the classic survey of the Western tradition now in its eighth edition.
Admittedly, there are many omissions. “Of course, it’s meant to be a starting — not an ending — point,” noted Nina Sangimino, who organized the groundbreaking show with Ruff and LIM curator Jonathan Olly.
Here, Newsday invited some of the featured artists to look back and forward to consider their place in and affinity with the litany of women who have adopted Long Island as a subject and setting for their artistic endeavors. Each artist talks about another in the exhibit whose work has been inspirational.
CORNELIA FOSS (born 1931) and ELAINE DE KOONING (1918-1989)
“An odd thing happened in the so-called Hamptons around the ’60s. Women painters had suddenly emerged and were being shown in the galleries in Southampton, Bridgehampton and East Hampton. These paintings were not the pretty ladies’ paintings of posies and such, but strong, interesting and vibrant paintings — some landscapes and some abstract visions. They said, ‘We’re here!’ They could not be ignored. Some were very good painters, some were more than that — they were great.
“I love the strength of the black lines in Elaine de Kooning’s ‘Standing Bison, Cave #92,’ 1986. They melt magically with the busy surroundings, and they are beautifully drawn. Sometimes one isn’t quite sure if it’s describing the outlines of a shape or the inside of another object — a wonderful ‘now you see it, now you don’t’ effect. However, one is aware that she is in control all the time. Nothing is haphazard.
"I think — I can only speak for myself here — that’s where inspiration comes in. There are times when my hand seems to know what to do before I do. It’s a wonderful feeling and I’m very grateful when it happens.”
WHAT “Two Centuries of Long Island Women Artists, 1800-2000”
WHEN | WHERE Through Sept. 4, Long Island Museum, 1200 North Country Rd., Stony Brook
INFO longislandmuseum.org, 631-751-0066
"Foss obviously knows whereof she paints - there is a complicity of the eye and hand that renders the scene perfectly recognizable yet autobiographically personal."
- Gerrit Henry, Art in America
* * *
"Graceful, mature...paintings full of light and a subtle geometry"
- Michael Kimmelman, The New York Times, "Cornelia Foss: New Paintings", May 27th, 2005
* * *
"There’s something calm about her painting, something uplifting and non-threatening that permeates the image."
- Michael Kimmelman, Dan's Paper, "Honoring the Artist: Cornelia Foss", June 3rd, 2005
Press - 2015:
Cornelia Foss: A Glimpse, an Idea, and ‘Suddenly a Painting’
“Painting is what makes life worthwhile,”
By Jennifer Landes | November 5, 2015
Review of Foss' 2013 solo exhibition at Peter Marcelle Gallery
July 3, 2013 by MIke Solomon Cornelia Foss: New Paintings
Art Review: Cornelia Foss Starts in the Heart
There are some painters who just seem to have a certain grace. I have known Cornelia Foss's work for probably 30 years and I have always been taken with it. Is it purely a matter of subjectivity?
In her current exhibition at the Peter Marcelle Gallery, as before, it's evident that there's nothing particularly radical or groundbreaking about the genre she works in. Landscapes, still lifes, garden scenes, seascapes and sometimes images of people, it's all the stuff of contemporary impressionism, cleaving to the Hamptons vein that started with William Merritt Chase and Thomas Moran then went to Fairfield Porter, and out through Jane Wilson and Jane Freilicher to what must be hundreds of artists who work in this genre now. For me, Cornelia Foss has always been special and, after spending some time at the new show, I think I can say I finally know why.
It starts in the heart. She has some kind of tremendous faith in her work, or about herself, because whatever that spirit is, it travels in her veins out to her hands, hands that apply the brushstrokes to her paintings, and something is translated, something happy and peaceful that conveys understanding. To quote Elvis Costello, "What's so funny about peace, love and understanding?" This is what you get when you view her work: a sense of comprehension, wonderment and contentment that comes from her resolved sense of self. It's there in the paintings.
"Garden Flowers" by Cornelia Foss, 2012. Oil on canvas, 48 x 48 inches.
Photo courtesy of Christopher Foss.
In her garden paintings, like Garden Flowers, 2012, or Garden Flowers III, 2010, the intimate and complex combine to give us all the pleasure we need from painting. Riotous color, in the form and shape of densely planted flowers and shrubs, is manifested by the loose rendering and confident brushstrokes.
This isn't representational dentistry either, tight and cruel like a vise. No, this is heart joy, open, energized attraction, affirmation and affinity for the world.Yet there is precision in the paintings. The measurement of tones and patterns among the flowers and leaves are not distracted approximations but rather are carefully and attentively observed.
Once understood, the artist lets the joy of that comprehension flow out in energized brushstrokes mapped from the universe of colors she has deciphered. In a sense, especially in the garden paintings for which she is best known, Foss is the representational twin of Joan Mitchell, as both artists achieve the same result; they get an energy from color and its application and, within their respective formats, give it back to the viewer as pure unconditional pleasure.
Another side to Foss's work shows up in the landscapes and seascapes. I was quite taken by the two small watercolors of waves breaking on the shore in part because they are so simply and elegantly rendered. I mean, how many wave scenes have been depicted by artists here on the East End? It must be in the thousands, yet for me, only few have a validity that equals the actual scene from which they are derived.
Waves are beautiful and so it's natural to want to "own" that beauty by painting it, but all too often what is painted falls flat. There are countless paintings done from photographs of waves that are perfectly rendered but lack the kind of energy plein air painting achieves by depicting not only what the artist saw but also what she or he felt when surrounded by the natural world.
This kind of translation of experience is important. It's not that easy to paint a convincing, much less interesting, wave scape. Foss seems not only to have managed the challenge quite easily but also has rendered charming views of waves standing up in the sun and breaking in our faces like some kind of happy greeting ritual.
"Surf" by Cornelia Foss, 2008. Oil on canvas, 47 x 47 inches.
Photo courtesy of Christopher Foss.
The oil painting Surf, 2008 also has an energy that makes it work and there's something about the darker and ominous, slightly surging horizon that gives the scene some gravitas. I think when one is dealing with a beautiful scene, it's good to include the dialectic. In depicting the beauty of the sea, it's right to remember its danger too (think of Sandy). So the hints at darkness lurking in the benign scene Foss give us create a necessary balance and make the painting more interesting.
"February Window VII" by Cornelia Foss, 2013. Oil on canvas, 65 x 60 inches.
Photo courtesy of Christopher Foss.
Really interesting to me is the large interior, February Window VII, 2013, the newest painting in the show. It has a marvelously mysterious setting.
Two black and white cats sit by a window that looks out into the urban twilight. Reflections and shadows play tricks and so the spaces and objects of the foreground seem only to float and reflect in the glass. On the upper left, architectural features protrude from the wall and an elegantly painted oil lamp glows below, reiterating the floating reflections in the rest of the painting.
Out through the window, a bridge is seen in the distance with a strip of light hitting it. All these elements seem to acknowledge Matisse's deconstructive period, particularly paintings like The Piano Lesson, and in his various versions of the Bridge at Notre Dame. This window painting is a surprise because while it contains Foss's sure hand, elegant color, generous rendering and the exploration of complexity and intimacy, it is with an entirely different set of elements from her garden paintings. I hope we get to see more of these intriguing new works.
Be sure to hurry in to see this wonderful show at Peter Marcelle because it's only up through July 9, 2013.
“Cornelia Foss: New Paintings” - on view through July 9, The Peter Marcelle Gallery.
* * *
Honoring the Artist: Cornelia Foss (From Dan's Papers)
By MICHAEL KIMMELMAN
June 3, 2005
“What goes around comes around,” the old saying goes, and somehow we think it fits Cornelia Foss’ latest New York exhibit: arresting images of the four seasons. “I was not conscious of what I was doing,” Ms. Foss notes, “but this show, more than any others I have done, reflects my experiences during the past year.”
An example from the current exhibit at Manhattan’s DFN Gallery graces this week’s cover, called “Stormy Weather.” It’s not the picture one perceives of East Coast climate, however: waves crashing, a dark and dank atmosphere.
Ms. Foss gives us comfort with her view of inclement weather; there’s something calm about her painting, something uplifting and non-threatening that permeates the image.
“What goes around comes around” also applies as we experience Ms. Foss’ spring and summer images as well, their colors idealized yet realistic, her settings both ones that exist and ones that will come to exist.
The same saying rings true regarding Ms. Foss’ personal life. While she talks with sadness about the friends she has lost, you know that Ms. Foss’ optimistic demeanor will return, like the swallows to Capistrano. We have a sense that whatever small or large event may occur during a given period, it will be deeply felt by Ms. Foss. Yet she seems to have an intuitive sense of life’s ebbs and flows, responding accordingly.
Such response is not simply apparent in Ms. Foss’ overt behavior, but also in her aesthetic process. Consider the fact that she may paint beautiful summer scenes in the midst of a dreary New York winter, where her only view looks out onto a messy and wet Broadway. Ebbs and flows persist in her subjects, too: often intimate, at times distanced.
There are aspects of Ms. Foss’ life, however, that remain constant and do not change with the tide’s ebbs and flows or the principle of going around and returning. Those elements reflect what she likes and dislikes about people. Ms. Foss doesn’t hesitate when being specific: “I like individuals with a sense of humor, ability to have fun, who are generous, and above all, have a lively interest in all kinds of things.”
And what about feelings about her own life? Do they remain constant as well? You bet. “Mostly my life has been lucky,” Ms. Foss comments with fervor. “There’s nothing sadder than to do something you don’t want to do or not knowing how to go about getting what you want.”
June, 2000 by Gerrit Henry
Cornelia Foss is part of a loosely knit group of artists commonly described as "painterly realists," many of whom are associated with Long Island's scenic Hamptons region. Others include, preeminently, Jane Freilicher, Robert Dash and the late Fairfield Porter. They take Bonnard as a guiding spirit, and their style has, in essence, evolved out of Action Painting, although the painterly realist stroke is not quite as free and easy, being object-bound.
A good part of Foss's achievement over the years is to have developed a painterly realist style she can call her own. With this latest show, the influence of Jane Freilicher, for instance, has been pretty much left behind. Foss brings her touch and glance to the Hamptons' waterways, both fresh and oceanic. A body of water perfectly suited to her vigorously delicious style is Wainscott Pond. There were at least five Wainscott images in the show, all clouds and sun and grasses, almost merry in their brushy shorthand. My favorite was Wainscott Pond Fog, epic at 70 by 66 inches. Foss approaches the pond and sky with a reverence that is equal parts familiarity. A gray day is brought to high tones by the artist, without much color and seemingly without much effort.
More fog--and outspoken beauty--are to be had in Barcelona Point and Fog, a rendering of the tip of an islet in mist that is a dull aqua. Foss here presents us with a summa of the painterly realist effort in her gentle abstracting of landscape form and color that goes for the soul.
Foss obviously knows whereof she paints--there is a complicity of eye and hand that renders the scene perfectly recognizable yet also autographically personal. In the sure-footed lyricism of Foss's forms and figures are metaphors for the act of painting itself. At 72 by 66 inches, Lukas and Augie is like an occasional poem worked into a paean. Foss's husband and dog stand on a grassy field, Lukas's arms at his hips, the dog at his sunniest. Something about the light, the air, the weather--all crisply, peculiarly Hamptons-like--is shared with us. Foss gets it exactly right, on her own terms.
Dan's Papers (Cover)
Art in America
The Art Scene
By ELIZABETH FASOLINO
May 10, 2007
The landscapes of Cornelia Foss, a Bridgehampton painter, captures the quiet coastal fields, beaches, and light of the East End of Long Island. As the late poet and critic Gerrit Henry wrote in Art in America, "Foss obviously knows whereof she paints - there is a complicity of the eye and hand that renders the scene perfectly recognizable yet autobiographically personal." Her simple and evocative paintings are on view at the DFN Gallery in New York City. The gallery will host a reception for the artist tonight from 6 to 8 p.m. The show is on view through June 9.
An Enthusiasm for the Observed
By JOHN GOODRICH
May 17, 2007
Given Milton Avery's fondness for broad arabesques and liberated colors, it's no surprise that he felt completely at home with the medium of watercolor. Starting in his 40s, Avery (1885–1965) turned regularly to the medium when his oils were unavailable or inconvenient, and in his later years often combined it with opaque media such as crayon and pastel. Knoedler's selection, limited to the artist's pure watercolors, spans four decades with more than 30 works. These include many from the private collection of the artist's family that have never before been exhibited.
The watercolors' subjects are the still lifes, interiors, and landscapes familiar from his oil paintings, and they reflect the same trend toward increasing abstraction. With its elementary composition of gamboling shapes and colors, "Little House by Purple Sea" (1958), produced when the artist was in his 70s, is classic Avery. At once fanciful and resolute, it locates the essential aspects of a scene — a house perched on a shore, spreading water, a crowding background — with an elementary scheme of purples, blues, and greens. With the even more reductive "Edge of the Lake" (1953), Avery shows off more of watercolor's unique qualities with blended, layered, and dry-brushed strokes that build as bands of water, trees, and sky. Some of the later watercolors, animated by scratchy textures rather than a counterpoint of tones, seem more tentative in design, but even these resonate with the artist's appealing blend of obtuseness and grace.
Most surprising are works from the '30s. The very earliest cityscapes, naturalistic in color and modeling, appear to predate the artist's conversion to Modernism. But by the time Avery produced the striking "Drawbridge" (c. 1930s), he had begun to simplify and flatten, while still observing dramas of tone and texture; its fluid mixing of light and dark blue-greens wonderfully evoke overcast sky and reflecting water. The artist, moreover, exploits the tensions of shapes, conveying the drop from the parting black ramps of the bridge to the paper-white of a tugboat far below.
Another remarkable work from this period, "On the Boardwalk" (c. 1930), orchestrates a crowd scene with humorous verve. A large umbrella shelters a foreground couple from bits of humanity all around: at left, the lumpy curls of a sunbather, viewed through a railing; at right, a high-heeled foot, the vestige of a pedestrian striding off the paper; above, in a sea of faces, the startling aspect of a man staring at us, his tiny bow-tie echoing the umbrella's great sweep. In terms of wash technique, this watercolor is unambitious, even clumsy, but as a composition it brims with energy and insights.
Cornelia Foss's landscapes, too, radiate an enthusiasm for the observed. While Avery restlessly plies the territory between nature and abstraction, Ms. Foss sides conspicuously with nature, evoking the particularities of light in large landscapes of seashores and fields.
With rapid but controlled brushstrokes, Ms. Foss delineates rounding dunes or a wave's diagonal beneath a vast sky. In "Gray Day" (2007), the artist's sure grasp of color shows in the subtle beige of the beach, which, infinitesimally varied in warmer and cooler tones, neatly captures the effect of lightabsorbent sand on an overcast day. A handful of quick marks of midtoned blue perfectly describes a wave's white foam, shadowed by its own crest. As in most of these landscapes, however, the sky is the most substantial of all, with subtle but decisive shifts of colors imparting a complex depth.
Among a number of smaller landscapes, portraits, and flower paintings in the gallery's smaller room, "Tulips" (2007) stands out for its fiery reds and brilliant pinks. Where these vivacious petals turn toward shadow, colors poignantly express their constrained glow.
Though working far more naturalistically than Avery, Ms. Foss doesn't always lend as much pictorial gravity to her forms. The twisting diagonal of a seashore, and even the horizon itself, sometimes seem to be swept up in the overall bowl of space rather than measuring out its dimensions. A canvas such as "Gulls" (2007), however, beautifully establishes the proximate and the distant, the large and the small. Here, a plane of silvery water slips beneath the thick luminosity of sky, while slivers of deep blue and light beige hold the horizon. In front rises a flutter of small, varied darks — a flock of birds. Against the fullness of air and of water, their dense notes powerfully elicit the abundance of nature.
Avery until August 10 (19 E. 70th St., between Fifth and Madison avenues, 212-794-0550);
Foss until June 9 (210 Eleventh Ave., between 24th and 25th streets, 212-334-3400).
Cornelia Foss: New Paintings
May 17 - June 18, 2005
Cornelia Foss (From The New York Times)
By MICHAEL KIMMELMAN
May 27, 2005
Graceful, mature, modest paintings full of light and a subtle geometry, Cornelia Foss's views of the beaches and salt marshes on Long Island and of Central Park convey a quiet awe for the beauty of nature and for paint's mellifluous ability to embody it. Whether it's a vista through flowering bushes and beneath heaving branches across a summer meadow; or the dark blue sky pressing down on a flat field, with a turquoise pond, like a gem, sparkling in the middle distance; or the glow of the sun against snow, silhouetting a pine whose shadow frames and balances a barren tree in the foreground - the mood is calm, bright and alert. Ms. Foss's touch is best when at its loosest, almost as if offhand, as in a couple of small portraits of children and in bigger pictures like "Spring Ride" and "Birds of Winter II," a tall panel of complex angles wherein a small flock of birds silently pecks at a pillow of white beneath a sheltering pine.
From the Very Beginning, No Choice about Career
(From South Hampton Press)
By JULIA DOUGLAS
August 11, 2005
Cornelia Foss...has been painting for more than 50 years and...has had close to 150 solo and group exhibitions throughout the United States as well as abroad.
When Ms. Foss was in her teens, her father was awarded a Prix de Rome by the American Academy in Rome; there she studied under the sculptor Mirko, receiving the First International Prize for sculpture at age 17.
As a young woman, she married Lukas Foss, moving with him to the coast when he was named professor of composition and conductor at the University of California at Los Angeles.
While in L.A., Ms. Foss attended the Kann Art Institute and made the switch from sculpting to painting. She explains, "I was struggling a bit and at one point knocked off the nose of a figure I was working on. It seemed to me that the people who were painting were having more fun." Her first solo show of paintings at the age of 20 was in Los Angeles.
Ms. Foss is known for seascape and landscape oils featuring huge skies, "the result of personal feelings and a tradition long-established by Fairfield Porter and Jane Freilicher," she says. "When you are out here, your first sensation is of the beauty of the vast sky and the smaller landscape in comparison."
Karen Wilkin, the critic and curator who authored the catalogue for Ms. Foss's recent show, wrote that "the surfaces of the paintings are cool, her touch, elegant, but at the same time, they are powerfully evocative of leaves, stone, sand, sky, and water." Recalling her first encounter with Ms. Foss's paintings, Ms. Wilkin wrote: "I immediately felt great pleasure to be so taken with her work and convinced by its strength and sensitivity."
Like many artists, including Degas, Ms. Foss also paints from photographs, especially for commissioned portraits. She explains that painting from a photograph is not better or worse than painting from real life. "It just produces a different kind of reality." She continues, "All painting is a form of abstraction since what we paint is not a real thing. Painting from a photograph is in a sense creating an abstraction from an abstraction."
Ms. Foss admires Vuillard, Picasso, Sargent and Whistler. Years before Lucien Freud was recognized, she identified him as a mentor. As she says, "An artist like Freud influences you by giving ideas and showing a certain way of handling something which is new to you."
The Fosses have created an oasis far removed from the hectic pace of "the Hamptons." At the time of the interview, Ms. Foss was looking forward to the rest of the summer, although she anticipated it would not be totally serene: as she pointed out, "I am already three portraits behind."
Foss Dan's Papers
Art in America
MM FINE ART
Selected New Paintings
A New York City Preview
@ DFN Projects
16 East 79th #G2
New York, NY 10075
Monday - Friday, 11 a.m. - 4 p.m.
And by Appointment
Please join us for a reception
with the artist
May 24th, 5-8 p.m.