Adele Brandwen (1900-1964) was a female American artist whose landscapes, still-lifes, and portraits earned a considerable amount of attention and respect in the mid-twentieth century art worlds of New York City and Paris, in the process establishing her as a trailblazing figure on the path toward gender equality in the arts.
Born in New York City on Oct. 27, 1900, Adele Brandwen attended the Art Students League before studying for several years with noted artist Maurice Sterne (1878-1957), a Corcoran Gallery of Art Gold Medalist who in 1933 was the recipient of the Museum of Modern Art’s first major one-man show accorded an American artist. For many years Mrs. Brandwen — whose husband, Maxwell Brandwen, was a prominent Manhattan attorney — maintained an artist’s studio above New York’s famed recital space, Carnegie Hall. Her first solo exhibition was held at the internationally prestigious American-British Art Center in New York City in October 1947. At that point in time, the groundbreaking nature of an exclusive exhibition by a female artist aroused much public interest, resulting in newspapers and periodicals throughout the country publishing a photograph of Mrs. Brandwen preparing for the show, the opening of which brought public praise for Mrs. Brandwen's work in The New York Times by the then mayor of New York City, William O’Dwyer. Additionally, Mrs. Brandwen’s technique was credited by the Tampa Bay Times as being strong enough to support her highly distinctive ideas, which included “fishes dancing before a woman’s eyes, a boy overwhelmed by a great cluster of tulips, and pairs of dancers framed in flowers,” all evoking a magical quality that the newspaper suggested bore similarities to the work of Louis Eilshemius (1864-1941), whose visionary landscapes were admired by such canonical artists as Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968) and Henri Matisse (1869-1954). In May 1949, Mrs. Brandwen’s exhibition in France represented a reversal of the normal process for transatlantic exhibitions: Generally, it was the custom for French artists to bring their work to America, rather than the other way around. Her one-woman show, held at the historic Galerie Andre Weil in Paris, drew praise in the French newspapers, and the opening was attended by the U.S. Ambassador to France, D.K. Bruce, and his wife. Commenting on the enthusiastic response to the show, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle wrote that “judging by the Paris reviews of her work, her exhibition was greeted as a definite contribution to the art world,” adding that her use of color was “exhilarating.” Included in the exhibition was her well-known painting, The Park, a rendering of the famous Japanese cherry trees that blossom every spring in Brooklyn’s Botanical Garden and attract nearly 100,000 visitors annually. In 1950, Mrs. Brandwen’s composition, The Marsh, was displayed at the Tenth Annual Exhibition of the Society for Contemporary American Art, a forum devoted to discovering leading examples of new and challenging Works of American Art on behalf of the renowned Art Institute of Chicago; The Marsh — featuring a bird of multi-hued plumage perched inside a web of interlocking reeds, its eyes wide open and alert — is indicative of Mrs. Brandwen’s ability to create unique artistic narratives of color and form. In 1951 she was invited to hold a second exhibition at the American-British Art Center, and in 1958 was the recipient of a solo exhibition at the Lyman-Allyn Museum in New London, Connecticut. Her final exhibition took place in 1961, at the Schoneman Galleries in New York City.
Adele Brandwen died in her native New York City in 1964 at the age of 64. Today her work is held in a number of serious private collections, and archival materials testifying to her historically significant career as a pioneering female artist are stored in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Frick Collection in New York City, and the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C.
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