George Tooker–a local amazing story from PAFA

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Read it first here on artblog–a scoop about the George Tooker show  from Robert Cozzolino, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts curator of modern art–and curator of this show.  He wrote:

Here’s the scoop in a nutshell…

A few weeks back, a man e-mailed me at PAFA to say he visited the Tooker show and loved it. “I noticed you had the study for ‘Laundress’ on view. If it is of interest, I have the painting in Philadelphia.” Well, I nearly fell out of my chair.

The drawing of the Laundress, by George Tooker, installed at PAFA before the discovery
The drawing of the Laundress, by George Tooker, installed at PAFA before the discovery

This is a picture that has been out of public view for many decades. It is an important early work that the co-curator and I were trying to track down but had few leads.
One of its distinctions is that it is the only oil painting Tooker did after studying at the Art Students League in the 1940s. Everything else is in egg tempera. It also reveals a broader range of New York subject matter that overlaps with his later Civil Rights-era work; an interest in his neighborhood in NY and the lives of families, in this case an African American woman and her children. Much closer to social realism than anything else he did. Yet still with that mystery and haunting quality his best works have.

Anyway — so the e-mail came on a Friday; I went to visit the man and the picture in West Philly on a Monday and by Tuesday the picture was at PAFA. Our conservator fixed the frame a bit, but otherwise it is in great condition and is a knockout. I was able to place it on the wall with the study where it looks like it has been since the opening.

Tooker's laundress painting next to the drawing, waiting to be installed at PAFA.
Tooker's laundress painting next to the drawing, waiting to be installed at PAFA.

The man who loaned the painting had a partner who formed a significant collection; he passed away about a decade and a half ago leaving things to his male partner. That partially explains the difficulty in tracking down the picture. I similar thing happened with another picture I did locate for the show (Guitar, 1957), but the phone number I had (from George’s old records) still worked and I was able to reach the former “collector’s” partner.

The picture is likely to travel to Columbus now with the show. But we are proud and delighted and grateful to be able to share this with our audiences — it’s a wonderful and touching surprise. The owner was extraordinarily generous and felt that it should be seen in the context of Tooker’s career and by a wide audience. So now it’s in the show!

It’s exactly the kind of serendipity you hope transpires when you do a show like this. I am doubly happy that I can share the news with George, now 88.

Tags

george tooker, pafa, robert cozzolino

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