Thursday, December 15, 2016

Harold Weston is one of my favorite painters of all time.

Harold Weston was born February 14, 1894 in Merion, Pennsylvania. The family was wealthy, and Harold spent his fifteenth year traveling in Europe and attending school in Switzerland and Germany. It was in Europe that he began to draw.

In 1910, Weston was stricken by polio and his left leg paralyzed. He learned how to walk again, although he had a pronounced limp, and began hiking to improve his walking and balance. Weston entered Harvard University in 1912 and graduated magna cum laude with a degree in Fine Arts in 1916.

During World War I, Weston serving as a YMCA hospitality liaison with the British Army in Baghdad. His sojourn in the Middle East deeply affected his work, as the colors and light he saw there completely changed his palette.

After spending two years working and painting in New York City, Weston concluded that working was draining his creative energies. In 1920, he built a one-room log cabin near St. Huberts, New York. He spent all of 1920, 1921, and the winter of 1922 there, painting and sketching in charcoal, pencil, oil, and watercolor on cardboard and canvas. He gave his first solo exhibition (a whopping 70 sketches and 63 paintings) at the Montross Gallery in New York City in November 1922. The show was a huge success.

Weston met Faith Borton in early 1923. She was a friend of Weston's sister, and she impressed him with her ability to withstand harsh winter weather, her intelligence, and her creativity. After just a few months of courtship, they married in May 1923.

The Westons continued to live in the one-room cabin in the Adirondacks, tending a kitchen garden and painting. The isolation turned Weston's attention to his wife's body, and he began painting her nude. He developed a technique called "landscape nudes", which was a radical departure from traditional nudes.

In August 1925, Weston suffered a kidney infection and then pneumonia that almost killed him. To recover his health, he and Faith moved to a farmhouse near CĂ©ret in the French Pyrenees. During his stay in Europe, Weston's palette lightened considerably. Weston learned how to etch, and created a series of images known as the "Love Nudes" (featuring a male and female friend he knew).

Weston returned to America in 1930. The couple now had three children (Barbara, Bruce, and Haroldine), and they returned to the cabin in the Adirondacks. Weston's work turned toward domestic subjects (a quilt, flowers, plants, snowhoes), and his work was displayed at the Phillips Memorial Gallery in D.C., the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

The Great Depression caused Weston to embrace left-wing politics, and his work now took on social and political themes. In 1936, the federal government hired him to paint murals for the General Services Administration building in Washington, D.C., and Weston created 22 panels in an Art Deco motif combined with photo-realism.

When World War II broke out, Weston abandoned painting. Haunted by memories of starving children during World War I, he threw himself into relief work. He founded Food for Freedom, an organization representing 60 million Americans which advocated for food aid for refugees. He also became an expert on food and farm policy. He personally lobbied Eleanor Roosevelt to push for a permanent worldwide agency dedicated to food aid, and she credited him as the impetus behind the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration.

Weston spent three years after the war developing a hyper-realistic style. He also spent three years working on a massive, photorealistic painting of the United Nations building.

The Westons moved to Greenwich Village in 1954. He co-founed the National Council on Arts and Government, an artists' group which lobbied the federal government for support for the arts. In 1965, the group won passage of legislation creating the National Endowment for the Arts.

Exhausted by political work, Weston began painting heavily again. He returned to his first love (abstraction), and abandoned realism. He painted his last significant work, the "Stone Series", from 1968 to 1972.

Harold Weston died on April 10, 1972, at his home in New York City.

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