Grace Hartigan (American, 1922–2008)
Le Mort de Arthur, 1996
Oil on canvas
78 x 84 in.
MSU purchase, funded by Mrs. Fay Martin Chandler, 2003.6
Grace Hartigan arrived in New York in 1946 and quickly became “one
of the boys.” She had been known as George Hartigan,
partly for George Sand, and she counted Franz Kline, Jackson
Pollock, and William de Kooning among her friends. Her rhythmic,
calligraphic style at the end of the 1940s shared much with
that of James Brooks, also a friend. Soon she began to feel
guilty about usurping the Abstract Expressionists’ for
without having struggled to find it, and set out on a search
for her own. She found it in store windows, Old Master reproductions,
and paper dolls – all pre-framed or two-dimensional representations – and
she has used them ever since.
King Arthur, the legendary Romano-English leader of the
Knights of the Round Table in the battles against Saxon invaders
and the search for the Holy Grail, is laid out in death like
Christ in the Pietá, for all to worship and adore.
The gray of death and blood red are the dominant colors,
and the canvas is as much drawn as painted. The pentimenti
(or ghosts) of previous gestures are left to be taken in
with the final, decisive marks to experience the painter’s
process along with the story’s content. A grand theme
is grandly treated.