Black Velvet

Grace Hartigan

American, 1922 - 2008

Black Velvet, 1972

  • On View

Oil on canvas

Dimensions: 109 1/8 × 80 1/8 in. (277.2 × 203.5 cm)
Framed: 110 3/8 × 81 5/8 in. (280.4 × 207.3 cm)

Anonymous donor out of the Detroit area, 1974.26

Black Velvet was painted in 1972, the year her father died. Hartigan expressed pain and loss through a relatively traditional genre—still life. This type of painting often includes a series of objects that carry an underlying meaning or message. Still life paintings became popular in Europe in the 17th century and were collected by wealthy art patrons. Typically small in size, vanitas (Latin for vanity) were a particular type of still life painting that include symbols of decay or change as a reminder of death. Hartigan is channeling that concept in Black Velvet by including objects that remind her of the death of her father. The empty chair in the center illustrates the void of his absence while two birds represent the soul’s departure from earth. Unlike a traditional still life this painting is quite large, perhaps reflecting the enormity of her pain. Grace Hartigan is one of the most renowned artists of the second generation New York School, a group of artists who expanded upon the innovative experiments in art initiated by the Abstract Expressionists. Although Hartigan built her early career upon complete abstraction, in the mid-1950s she began to introduce figurative and biographical elements in her work.

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