Whitehot Magazine

Anne Harvey: Painting in Paris

Anne Harvey, Two Trees and a River, Courtesy of Steven Harvey Gallery

Anne Harvey & Raymond Mason: In Paris

Steven Harvey Fine Art Projects

October 19 through December 10, 2022

By ERIK LA PRADE, November 2022

The current exhibition at Steven Harvey Fine Art Projects offers a unique opportunity to view paintings and drawings by Anne Harvey (1916-1967), an artist not well-known today.  Harvey was Steven Harvey’s aunt on his father’s side, which gives this show a more personal tone.  This exhibition is Ms. Harvey’s first one-person show since a memorial exhibition in 1971, at the Robert Schoelkopf Gallery, New York, curated by Jason Harvey, Anne’s brother and Steven’s father.  In 2002, Steven curated an exhibition titled FAMILY LINE: Drawings and Paintings by Anne Harvey, Jason Harvey, Steven Harvey, at The New York Studio School.  The catalogue for FAMILY LINE  is a good introduction to the work of all three artists and shows how Anne’s work resonated with or influenced her brother’s and nephew’s artwork.  But the catalogue for the present show, ANNE HARVEY in PARIS, greatly expands on the previous one, reproducing an opening essay by Henry Lessore, “The Artist and Her World,” from FAMILY LINE, and providing the reader with many photographs and previously written articles on Anne’s life and work.  

Anne Harvey was born in Chicago and spent  some of her early years there attending a progressive school with her brother Jason.  She was introduced to painting by her aunt, Katharine Dudley.  Anne demonstrated a precocious talent for drawing and painting in her pre-teen years, and in 1928, she was taken to Paris by her aunt, where her life “among artists and painters” began.   At this point in her life, the gates to the art-world castle opened wide. Anne met Pascin (whose 1929 drawing of the twelve-year-old Anne is reproduced in the catalogue), Leger, Matisse, Picasso, Calder, Survage, and  Brancusi, among others.  A 1928 photograph of Anne, which I found more charming than Pascin’s drawing, shows her relaxed, wearing a white peasant-style dress; her face has a soft focus and her eyes express a perceptive nature. 

Anne Harvey, Portrait of Brancusi. Courtesy of Steven Harvey Gallery


Her relationship with Brancusi seems to have been that of student and mentor.  Two photographs in the show, taken by Brancusi, show Anne in his studio.  There are also two works by Anne depicting Brancusi in his studio.  One is a large drawing of the sculptor, and the other a large painting, both done in 1934, when Anne was just eighteen.  Each demonstrates Anne’s natural talent and ability. The drawing is vibrant and immediate; Brancusi sits on a stool, arms crossed, looking directly out at us, surrounded by a number of his sculptures, which are readily recognizable.  I found the painting to be somewhat static and Anne’s rendering of the sculptor in muted colors seems to depict Brancusi himself as one of his own sculptures.  However, I found myself drawn to this painting and as I let my eyes wander through it, I was struck by Harvey’s careful recreation of the studio, and began to appreciate the patterns she found there and the strength of her composition.   

Both the drawing and the painting were based on a self-portrait photograph Brancusi had given Anne.   In the drawing, she has portrayed the artist with some of his tools lying on the large plaster table behind him, while in the painting, Harvey has eliminated these tools, perhaps wishing to declutter the picture in order to concentrate on Brancusi’s figure. The painting’s background reveals a number of Brancusi’s works, including three versions of Endless Column, plus Bird, and Fish.  In the drawing, Harvey has enhanced the background making it more intimate and close; shading the works and adding decorative elements to the fireplace mantel, while eliminating these elements in the painting.  Both works are examples of the complex way in which Harvey saw and recorded the world around her.

Drawing is a good introduction to Harvey’s art and was one of the strengths of her work.  As Steven Harvey told me, “Anne was really seeing the world through drawing.”  There is an ample selection of her drawings in this show.  In one, the drawing Roses, the artist meticulously detailed each petal, building the flower’s structure or spine from the inside out.  It reminded me of Andrew Wyeth’s work; both artists took ordinary objects in their environment(s) and enhanced them through their art.  But Harvey’s drawings are not realistic in the same way that Wyeth’s pictures are.  She isn’t an abstract painter but she does abstract the objects and the surrounding details in her drawings to the point where they have a hieroglyphic quality: a visually enigmatic writing enhancing the ordinary and giving it a sense of mystery.  

Anne Harvey, Roses. Ink on paper. Courtesy of Steven Harvey Gallery

Harvey also illustrated a book on Debussy which her father had written.  The publisher did not use the drawings, but some are reproduced in the catalogue and a few are in the show.  They also reveal how complex Harvey’s interpretation of the world was.
  A quote by Andre Masson in the catalogue touches on the mysterious quality in Harvey’s work:

. . .the intensity of her drawing do[es] not prevent an expression of the profound intimacy of the things and beings that are the subject of her pictures . . . she does the work of a painter and a painter of the first order. 

Two other drawings in the show - Still Life with a Cat  and Woman with Cat -  seem to be early, minor works, but they provide us with a real sense of how Harvey saw all-over patterns and translated them into her art.  The drawings titled “Shopfront, Night, Paris” and “Buildings, Paris” offer two more examples of her love of complex overall pattern.

Harvey’s unique drawing style translated to her paintings.  One painting in the show, Rooftops, is complex and maybe as close to abstraction as Harvey’s work ever gets.  It shows a diverse, outdoor landscape of forms and figures, some resembling slanted housetops, and others, buildings entwined in tree-like branches.  It reminded me of something by Stuart Davis, but the pattern in this painting is a fanatic and busy design.  A second comparison, to an Edward Hopper painting currently on view at the Whitney, treating the same subject of Rooftops, makes clear Anne’s strong deviation from “Realism” –   a style in vogue in the United States at the time.

Another painting, Two Trees and a River, is reminiscent of Impressionism, but Harvey uses color in an expressionistic way.  Her marks on the surface of the water do “float” as John Yau’s notes in the catalogue.  But the two trees are actually reflections on the water and these marks make them blend into the river’s surface.   In a related painting, Seine and Two Trees (shown only in the exhibition catalogue), Harvey also applied short marks to denote the water’s surface, but her style here is more neo-Impressionistic.  The water’s reflection of one of the trees is less defined and borders on being obscure. In this painting the trees are done in vibrant colors but have few strokes to depict them as trees.  

Harvey’s colors are unusual and subtle and heighten her “realistic” style, but her style is only “realistic” inasmuch as one can identify things.  That is, the objects in her paintings are based on real things but they are not “realistically” rendered.  One of the best examples of Harvey’s use of color and of her style is the painting Avocado Plant.  It combines a Fauve sense of color with a patterned-based sense of reality.  The background of this painting shows a room’s patterned interior, which highlights the plant’s odd physicality.

A second example is the painting Interior; a room where the décor and chairs and objects blend together without giving up any of their individual space.  These objects are well-defined but Harvey paints them as though they are two-dimensional, flattening the space onto the surface of the painting, to produce a visually stunning pattern, done with a muted and rich color palette. 

Anne Harvey, Studio Interior. Courtesy of Steven Harvey Gallery

There are only 12 works (paintings and drawings) in this show, which isn’t enough to fairly assess Harvey’s life’s work.  As an introduction, however, it illustrates that she made her own artistic choices outside of any major influences.  Harvey’s work was not unknown to her contemporaries, as the articles and artists’ comments published in the catalogue demonstrate.  She had a strong support group, which included Marcel Duchamp.  Anne Harvey died in 1967.  On page fifteen of the catalogue, there is a reproduction of a letter from Duchamp to Jason Harvey, dated Oct. 1, 1968, stating, “I will be glad to help find a good gallery for Annie’s work. . .”
 Ironically, Duchamp died the next day, on Oct. 2, 1968.  

Anne Harvey’s artistic career spanned about thirty years.  During her lifetime, the artist’s work was shown in only six exhibitions - one-person and group shows - altogether.  Two of the group shows were at Peggy Guggenheim’s Art of this Century Gallery: 31 Women, 1943, and The Women, 1945.   Her brother curated a memorial show in 1971. 

Some artists do find critical acclaim in their lifetimes, but others have their work bypassed if people are not visually attuned to their idiosyncratic styles.  Art historians, critics, and writers give names to various generational styles, but artists who do not fit into a particular categorical style can and do get overlooked.

It seems Harvey was not trying to establish any particular style in her many different works, but was more comfortable exploring different techniques and approaches.  This variety of styles may have hampered her finding a wider audience, as did her unfortunate early death.  The work she left offers a unique artistic vision and expression, whose sensibility is surprisingly contemporary, and worth a trip to see at Steven Harvey Fine Art Projects.


Erik La Prade

Erik La Prade has a B.A. and M. A. From City College.  Some of his interviews and articles have appeared in Art in America, The Brooklyn Rail, ArtCritical and NewsWhistle.  His book, Breaking Through: Richard Bellamy and the Green Gallery, 1960-1965, was published in 2010.  MidMarch Arts Press.  His forthcoming book, WEATHER, is published by LAST WORD BOOKS.  Olympia, Washington. 2020

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