Jane Wilson

1924-2015

Jane Wilson is known for her expressionist portrayals of landscapes, seas, and skies, luminous works that merge abstraction and representation. Her horizon landscapes of sunsets, storms, and clouds – with just a trace of ocean or land on the bottom plane of the paining – are rendered in glowing colors.

Wilson grew up on a farm in Iowa during the Great Depression.  She studied painting and art history at the University of Iowa and after graduation taught art history there for two years.  Wilson taught art at several colleges and universities, including thirteen years at the Columbia University School of Art, where she was Acting Chair from 1986 to 1988.

In 1949, Wilson and her husband moved to New York City where she joined an informal group of artists and writers known as the New York School. This group included female painters Joan Mitchell, Grace Hartigan, Elaine de Kooning, Nell Blaine, and Jane Freilicher.  Wilson painted abstract art and worked as a fashion model to to support her art. In the mid-1950s, Wilson abandoned pure abstraction in favor of modernist representational painting of landscapes as well as portraits. 

In the 1960s, the Museum of Modern Art purchased a large landscape of hers, “The Open Scene.”  Andy Warhol had her paint his portrait, “Andy and Lilacs,” which he gave to the Whitney Museum of American Art.  She, her husband, and young daughter were living on East 10th Street by Tompkins Square Park where she painted atmospheric cityscapes of the park and her neighborhood.  When she and her husband bought an old carriage house in Water Mill, Long Island in 1960, she used this location as a source for landscape paintings. 

Through the late 1970s, Wilson painted still lifes in her apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side where she moved in 1968. However, in the early 1980s, she returned to landscapes as her prime subject matter. She described her way of painting them, “I start painting from the top down in thin color washes, working into it with paint a little thicker.  While painting landscape, my feeling is that the detail and the mass are built on varieties of paint application, but when a painting is finished, these details have somehow become recognizable things.” 

Wilson was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters in New York. In 2002, Wilson won the Lifetime Achievement Award from Guild Hall Museum in East Hampton, New York.

Wilson’s paintings are in the permanent collections of major museums including New York’s Brooklyn Museum, Metropolitan Museum of art, Museum of Modern Art, and Whitney Museum of American Art.  Her work is also included in San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, and others.

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