Lee Krasner

Lee Krasner was born Lena Krassner in Brooklyn, New York in 1908, the sixth child of Russian Jewish immigrant parents.  She changed her name in the 1930s to Lenore Krasner.

Lee Krasner attended school in Brooklyn and then went to Washington Irving High School in Manhattan which was the only school available to her where she could study art.   She continued with her art education on leaving school, attending the Women’s School of the Cooper Union, the Arts Students’ League and finally the National Academy of Design.

Like many of the New York artists during the 1930s she enrolled in the Public Works of Art Project and in 1937 she began to study with Hans Hofmann who introduced her to the principles of Cubism.

Early Career

Krasner’s work at this time was influenced by Cezanne, Matisse and Mondrian.  She was also very active politically and took part in demonstrations on behalf of the Artists Union.  In 1941 she was invited to participate in a prestigious art exhibition which featured the works of Picasso, Braque, Matisse and Mondrian and also included Jackson Pollock who at that time was unknown to her. 

Krasner has described how she was curious about this artist as she thought she knew all the artists in her neighbourhood so he went to Pollock’s studio and introduced herself.  Their friendship quickly developed into a relationship and they moved in together towards the end of 1942.  She was instrumental in obtaining Pollock’s contract with Peggy Guggenheim’s Art of the Century Gallery for his first one-man show in 1945.

Marriage to Pollock and ‘Little Image’ series

Lee Krasner and Jackson Pollock married in 1945 and moved to Long Island.  Although  Krasner was extremely supportive of Pollock  in his career during this time she continued  to work on her own pieces and produced  her  Little Image series of paintings from a very small work space in their East Hampton house.   Follow this link to see one painting from this series with accompanying audio piece.

Lee Krasner and Jackson Pollock House
The Pollock-Krasner House
(photo:By Americasroof at en.wikipedia [CC-BY-SA-2.5], from Wikimedia Commons

In the 1950s she began to work with collage and she had her first solo exhibition in the Betty Parsons Gallery in New York in 1951 but the exhibition was not a commercial success.  She used unsold canvases and other drawings to produce large collage paintings for her next show which was held at the Stable Gallery in 1955.

By 1956 her marriage to Pollock was in difficulty. He began an affair and Lee was persuaded by friends to take a trip to Europe.  While she was away, Pollock was killed in a car crash and she returned home to organise his funeral and attend to his estate which she continued to manage until the 1970s.

 

Career from mid-1950s

Following Pollock’s death, she began to work on a much larger scale and her next exhibition at the Martha Jackson Gallery attracted more attention and in 1965 she had a successful exhibition at the Whitechapel Art Gallery in London.

In the early 1970s in New York she embraced the emerging feminist movement and took part in protests against the Museum of Modern Art’s neglect of female artists.  She received numerous accolades during the 1970s and 1980s and a major retrospective of her work was mounted by the Houston Museum of Fine Arts in 1983 and toured to San Francisco, Phoenix, Norfolk, Virginia and New York.

Lee Krasner Legacy

Krasner played a leading role in the Abstract Expressionist movement both in her own right as an artist and also as the manager of Jackson Pollock’s work.   She was instrumental in obtaining record prices for his paintings after his death, a development which paved the way for other abstract expressionist artists to command higher prices for their work. 

When she died in 1984, Krasner’s estate funded the Pollock Krasner Foundation which has provided financial support to thousands of artists around the world.  At her request, the house where she and Pollock lived in East Hampton has been kept as it was when they lived there.  It is open to the public and is home to an extensive research library.

A Unique Achievement

Krasner was unique in her achievement in being the only woman among the first generation of Abstract Expressionists. However, Krasner was overlooked as an artist because she was a woman.   Prejudices against women were prevalent in the society of the time and the art world was no exception.   Her work was not afforded the same status as that of her male contemporaries.  However, her legacy is a testament to the strength and integrity of her character and her work, in its complexity and vibrancy, speaks for itself.

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