DescriptionWILL BARNET (American, 1911-2012)
Portrait of Martha, 1982-85
Oil on canvas
40-1/2 x 35-1/2 inches (102.9 x 90.2 cm)
Signed and dated lower right: © Will Barnet 1982-'85
Signed, titled and dated verso: Portrait of Martha (on stretcher) / © Will Barnet / 1983-1985
During the Renaissance people collected portraits. . . . The human countenance was the most interesting of subjects and therefore it was natural not only to own portraits of one's ancestors but of others. It is unfortunate that we do not share this feeling today, for a portrait can be a most intriguing object upon which to reflect. - Will Barnet
Portrait of Martha with Cats is a striking example of Will Barnet's stylized, large-scale domestic depictions of family and friends, which rarely come to market. Here, Barnet depicts Martha Arroyave Lavergne, wife of the late Nelson G. Lavergne from Nutley, New Jersey, both close personal friends of the artist. Originally from Puerto Rico, Nelson Lavergne was President and Chief Executive Officer of Broadcast Associates Inc. in New York, which owned WADO, the most prominent Spanish radio station in the country. In 1982, Lavergne commissioned this exquisite portrait of his wife with her beloved cats, a project that Barnet carefully executed over a period of three years.
A modernist printmaker, graphic designer, and painter based in New York, Barnet incorporated eclectic influences in his aesthetic. In this particular portrait, the elegantly rendered, minimal lines of Martha's face recall portraits by both the Renaissance painter Piero della Francesca and the Pop artist Alex Katz. Likewise, the flattened, collage-like shapes, subtle coloration, and floral-patterned fabric borrow directly from Japanese ukiyo-e prints. Strong geometric shapes, such as the lampshade reflected in the background mirror and the coffee table, point to Native American art and the paintings of Stuart Davis, with whom Barnet studied. The energy of the composition lies in the curvilinear contours of Martha's arms and the cats' bodies, she encircling them just as they encircle her.
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