An exhibition catalog, published on the occasion of a recent retrospective at Baylor University’s Martin Museum, focuses on the three artistic periods of a forgotten American painter.
This book commemorates the centennial of Fontaine’s birth and consists of a preface and biography by the author, the artist’s youngest daughter, a foreword by Baylor University art history professor Kate Robinson Edwards, and essays on Fontaine’s career by art historians Margaret Senz and Mary Brantl and artist Robert Linsley. (Chidester notes that this year is also the 100th anniversary of the famous New York Armory Show that changed the world of modern art.) Fontaine doesn’t fit neatly into any genre, category or regional school of painters; Linsley, in his essay, refers to the painter’s work as “cosmopolitan modernism,” and in an “artist statement” written in 1949, Fontaine called his work “non-objective pictures.” “All art, just as time, is in transition,” he wrote. He tackled surrealism of the Giorgio de Chirico variety and painted WPA murals steeped in realism, regionalism and social commentary. He was born in Massachusetts of French-Canadian parents, and at the age of 8, he drew an upside-down car good enough to get him into the Worcester Art Museum School of Art. Reproductions of some of his early figure studies from the late 1930s convey his natural gift for drawing. He later earned his bachelor of fine arts at Yale University in 2 1/2 years (it normally takes takes five), and in 1941, he and his new wife, Virginia, began a long life together as expats. He followed his artistic vision wherever it took him, including Darmstadt, Germany, from 1953 to 1970, where he served as the art director for the European edition of Stars and Stripes. Chidester’s well-researched yet intimate biography relies on extensive correspondence and diaries and manages to bring her father’s long-overlooked career to life. She and her fellow essayists brilliantly demonstrate the progress and processes of the artist, who left behind an estimated 600 works in public and private hands. Many of his later, lively, abstract paintings are reproduced in eye-popping color.
An engaging revival of a talented, expat painter who was overshadowed by his midcentury contemporaries.