Robert Gwathmey, American (1903 - 1988)

Robert Gwathmey

Born in Richmond, Virginia, Robert Gwathmey became an artist known for his Social Realist depictions of life in the rural South. He was one of the first white artists to create dignified images of African-American people and did so in a style that was modernist with many geometric forms and bold colororation.

He spent most of his forty-five year career in New York City, but frequently returned to the South where he became concerned about the problems dividing blacks and whites.

His family were "old Virginia," and he was raised in an environment where segregation was espoused. He moved north to study art, going first to the Maryland Institute of Art for a year and in 1930 earned a degree from the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. To earn money in Philadelphia, he worked in a settlement house and became much aware of tensions between people with diverse cultures. He was active politically to get money for federal support of projects to help needy individuals.

He married Rosalie Hook of Charlotte, North Carolina, an artist and photographer who did a documentary series on blacks in the South. These images became a source of inspiration for her husband's paintings.

Gwathmey traveled in Europe for two years and then taught at Carnegie Institute of Technology and for twenty-six years at Cooper Union. In 1944, he received a Rosenwald Fellowship and lived and worked on a tobacco farm, another experience that motivated him to turn to rural south themes in his art. In 1973, he was elected to the National Institute of Arts and Letters and in 1976, to the National Academy of Design.

After finishing school, Robert Gwathmey was a professor at several colleges: Temple University in Philadelphia(1930-1932), Beaver College in Glenside, PA (1930-1937), Carnegie Institute of Technology, Pittsburgh, PA (1939-1942), the Cooper Union School of Art, New York City (1942-1968), New School for Social Research, New York (1946-1949), and Boston University (1968-1969).

He was an instructor to artists Faith Ringgold and Alvin Carl Hollingsworth.

Robert was also an activist for several political movements, because of this he was watched by the FBI for the last twenty-seven years of his life.


2008 “Painting in the United States: 1943-1949,” Westmoreland Museum of American Art, Greensburg, PA “The American Scene,” British Museum, London
2007 “American Social Realism: 1920-1950,” Forum Gallery, New York City
2004 “Everyday Mysteries: Modern and Contemporary Still Life,” DC Moore Gallery, New York City
2000 “Robert Gwathmey: Master Painter,” Telfair Art Museum, Savannah, GA; Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art, PA “Robert Gwathmey: A Retrospective,” Virginia Historical Society, Richmond, VA
1999 “Robert Gwathmey: Master Painter of the Old South,” Butler Museum of American Art, Youngstown, OH[6] “Childe Hassam, Robert Gwathmey, Fairfield Porter, Ben Shahn, and Jules Pascin,” ACA Galleries, New York City
1998 “In the Eye of the Storm: An Art of Conscience 1930-1970,” Frederick R. Weismann Art Museum, Minneapolis, MN
1997 Greg Kucera Gallery, Seattle WA
1985 Exhibition at the Cooper Union School of Art
1976 Solo exhibition at St. Mary’s College of Maryland Solo exhibition at Terry Dintenfass Inc., New York City
1967 Annual Exhibition of Contemporary American Painting, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York City
1966 Brooklyn Museum, NY
1956 “Let’s Face It: An Exhibition of Contemporary Portraits,” Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston, TX
1952 Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN
1946 Solo show at the ACA Gallery in New York City Joint exhibition with photographer (and wife) Rosalie Hook Gwathmey at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond. “Advancing American Art,” overseas traveling exhibition sponsored by the US State Department
1944 Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN
1943 Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN Whitney Museum of American Art, NY Art Institute of Chicago, IL
1941 ACA Gallery in New York City (solo) Contemporary Water Color Show, San Diego Fine Arts Gallery


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