The Art of Gertrude Abercrombie

“I am not interested in complicated things nor in the commonplace, I like to paint simple things that are a little strange.”

Gertrude Abercrombie
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Gertrude abercrombie horse owl and chaise The Art of Gertrude Abercrombie

I am excited to share the work of one of my favorite artists, Gertrude Abercrombie. I can’t get over her color palette! It’s gorgeous and moody. We have a painting of an owl and cat in our collection, and it is always a pleasure to view it. (As you may know, I am obsessed with owls.)

Here’s some background information on Gertrude Abercrombie. She was born in Texas in 1909. Her parents worked for a traveling opera company. She and her family briefly lived in Germany until World War I broke out. They relocated to Illinois, where she remained until her death in 1977.

Abercrombie was involved in the Chicago art and jazz scenes. She was a painter and pianist. She loved hosting salons in her apartment with appearances from notable musicians, such as Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker.

Abercrombie described herself as mostly self-taught. Although, after graduating with a Bachelor’s degree in romance languages, she went on to take a few art classes. She also worked as a glove illustrator at a local department store, but her paintings were her true calling.

Her surrealist paintings feature cats, owls, the moon, shells, and other objects from nature. Most are small in size. Some of her images were what she considered to be self-portraits of her feelings and moods, and others were based on dreams. Notice the paintings within her paintings (pictured above). The rooms are so peaceful but they also invoke a sense of loneliness and isolation, which is odd since she was known to have many friends and admirers.

In 1944, the Art Institute of Chicago held an exhibition of Abercrombie’s work. She had several other shows, but her work did not gain much traction beyond the Midwest. Recently, Abercrombie has started to gain even more recognition for her incredible work. In 2018, the New York gallery Karma hosted a solo exhibition. That was the first show of her work in New York since the 1950s. A retrospective of her artwork is scheduled for the Fall of 2021 at the Carnegie Museum of Art.

To view more of Abercrombie’s work, check out her page on Karma Gallery’s website. Also, if you enjoy reading artist biographies, I highly recommend the book Identity Unknown by Donna Seaman. It features a chapter on Gertrude Abercrombie.

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Image credits (top to bottom):
#1 Letter from Karl, ca. 1940, Collection of the Union League Club of Chicago.
#2 Leaves and Shell, 1953, oil on hardboard
#3 Horse, owl, and chaise, 1966, oil on fiberboard, 15.5 x 19 in.

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