Girl on Stool
lithograph on paper
24 in. x 18 in. (60.96 cm x 45.72 cm)
Gift of Dr. George Violin,
Noted for his innovative renditions of the human figure, Philip Pearlstein has played a significant role in extending the Realist strain in American art. Born in Pittsburgh in 1924, Pearlstein studied briefly at the city's Carnegie Institute of Technology before being drafted during World War II. After serving with the U.S. armed forces in Italy, he returned to his instructors at the Carnegie Institute. There he met a number of newer, younger students including Andy Warhol (1928-1987) and Dorothy Cantor, who would later become his wife. Taking his BFA degree in 1949, Pearlstein left Pittsburgh and joined Warhol in New York City. There he pursued painting while attending graduate courses in art history at New York University. Making contacts among the Abstract Expressionists, he developed a freely brushed abstract style that featured in his first one-person show at the Tanager Gallery in 1955. Toward the end of the decade, however, Pearlstein returned to a more figurative mode as Abstract Expressionism began to lose momentum in New York.
After winning a Fulbright grant in 1958, Pearlstein painted landscapes for a year in Italy. Once back in New York, he began teaching at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, and by the early 1960s he was painting regularly from the nude model. His fresh and intellectually probing studies of the human form attracted attention, and a number of his paintings were purchased by major figures in the art world. At the same time, Pearlstein was gaining recognition as an able and thoughtful commentator on contemporary art; over the years, he has written a number of articles on art movements, Realism, and figure painting. Although he has remained best known for his nude studies, Pearlstein devotes much of his time to landscape, and has traveled to many parts of the world in search of subjects. Besides painting, drawing and printmaking are important aspects of Pearlstein's art making, and the artist has had a number of exhibitions of works in these media.
The Currier's 1971 lithograph, Girl on Stool, is a fine example of Pearlstein's approach to depicting the human figure. Avoiding the classical poses and idealized physiology that have long typified the female nude, Pearlstein arranges his model in an awkward cross-legged position atop a metal stool. Cropping the top half of the figure's head, the artist denies the viewer any sense of rapport with the subject. At the same time, he leads the eye down the length of the figure's arms to the knotted tangle of fingers and legs in the lower half of the composition. Uncomfortable to contemplate, but visually intriguing, Pearlstein's nude has become a study in form and surface texture. Portrayed under even studio lighting, the faceless figure seems more like a still-life arrangement than a human being.
Eschewing old allusions, Pearlstein asks the viewer to consider the nude as a pure visual object. Separating it from its traditional associations of the erotic or heroic, the artist presents it on its own terms as a physical entity realized in two dimensions on paper. While he is capable of a high degree of verisimilitude in his work, Pearlstein is careful to remind the viewer that Girl on Stool is ultimately a lithographic drawing. If some passages reveal a careful, quasi-photographic gradation of tones, others are marked by a vigorous cross-hatching that underscores the motion of the artist's hand. Such attention to the materiality of the subject and the process of art making is at the core not only of Pearlstein's Realism but modern art as a whole.
Girl on Stool was presented to the Currier Museum of Art in 1986 by Dr. George Violin.
Willard F. Midgette. "Philip Pearlstein: The Naked Truth." Art News 66, no. 6 (October 1967): 54-55, 75-76.
Philip Pearlstein: A Retrospective. Ex. cat. Milwaukee Art Museum, 1983.
2001 Currier Gallery of Art, Manchester, NH, "From Wyeth to Welliver: American Realism of the 20th Century." June 30 - Sept. 3.