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Marie Hull - New World, New Directions

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Part of an ongoing series on Mississippi artist Marie Hull, showcased in this Fall and Winter’s celebratory exhibition, Bright Fields: The Mastery of Marie Hull.

Marie Hull (1890-1980), Colorado Landscape, 1930s(?). MMA 1981.279aa_p.14

So far as we know, there are very few paintings that are dated or documented to the years of the United States’ participation in World War II (1941-45). There is something of a gap in our knowledge of Marie Hull’s personal artistic evolution, but it may well be that these were years of consolidation for her. It seems likely she would have stayed close to home during the War years, when commodities such as gasoline were rationed, and therefore that many of the familiar depictions of rural life in Mississippi date from this period. It likewise would have been the perfect opportunity to use the drawings and watercolors from her travel-books to paint pictures of the American landscape, especially of the American and Canadian Rocky Mountains which the Hulls had visited shortly before the outbreak of war—a trip documented by many drawings and watercolors.

In any event, by the time America emerged on the world’s post-war stage as its undisputed leader, Mrs. Hull seems to have undergone a transformation, too. Bruce Levingston has written as follows about the paintings made from about 1945 to the mid 1960s:

Following the bleak years of the Great Depression, Marie Hull’s work seemed to explode with color, experimentation, and energy. She began to assimilate all that she had learned from seeing other contemporary artists’ work on her great 1929 tour of Europe… The result was a two-decade voyage of growth and production that led to the creation of some of her most beautiful and daring paintings.

Marie Hull (1890-1980), Fishing Pier, 1950. oil on canvas. Collection of J.W. Underwood.

We see Mrs. Hull responding to the art of Europeans such as Henri Matisse (1869-1954), Piet Mondrian (1872-1944), and Fernand Leger (1881-1955), whose brilliant primary colors, cut-outs and collages, or grid-like patterns are evident in a masterwork such as Fishing Pier of 1950. Throughout the 1950s she was obviously learning from the works of Hans Hofmann (1880-1966), the father of Abstract Expressionism, and of her younger contemporaries in the New York School such as Franz Kline, Morris Louis, Philip Guston, Ad Reinhardt, Grace Hartigan, and Helen Frankenthaler.