Surrealist Gertrude Abercrombie

Two cats. 1958.
Two cats. 1958.

She was called the “Queen of Bohemian Artists”, she was fond of jazz and was friends with the legendary saxophonist Charlie Parker and trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie. Echoes of jazz motifs can be found in the work of Abercrombie. And parties in Abercrombie’s house thundered throughout Chicago.

Owl. 1955.
Owl. 1955.

Gertrude Abercrombie was born in Texas on February 17, 1909 into a family of opera singers, meaning music accompanied her from childhood. The family lived in Berlin for some time, but with the outbreak of World War I they returned to America and settled in Chicago. Gertrude studied well and studied Romance languages at the university. And she learned the basics of art at a private art academy and also attended courses at the Art Institute of Chicago (contrary to the name, this is not a university, but a museum).

Self portrait of my sister. 1941.
Self portrait of my sister. 1941.

After graduating, Gertrude worked in advertising and began exhibiting her work at various art fairs, gradually becoming famous in Chicago. During the Great Depression, she participated in art projects organized by the American government to help struggling artists. Abercrombie’s first solo exhibition took place in 1934.

Gertrude was married twice, the first time to a lawyer, the second to musicians, which connected her with the circle of jazz performers. The artist herself performed improvisations on the piano. Her personal life was not very successful, so the artist became addicted to alcohol and spent the last years of her life in a wheelchair due to arthritis. She died in 1978.

Gertrude Abercrombie in front of her work.
Gertrude Abercrombie in front of her work.

Gertrude Abercrombie, like many other artists, had her own number of favorite subjects. Especially often, various witch attributes appear in her works: a black cat, the moon, an owl, a broom, a crystal ball, etc. In one of the interviews, the artist stated that she always draws herself. Apparently, she felt some kind of witch in herself and even wore a tall velvet hat to make her appearance more impressive, especially since she was not a beauty.

Self portrait. 1942.
Self portrait. 1942.

The artist’s works, as a rule, are deserted, covered in some kind of melancholy, mysterious mood – it doesn’t matter whether it’s a landscape or an interior. Gertrude drew inspiration from dreams, which is generally quite typical for surrealism. She created most of her works in the 1940s and 50s.

White cat. 1935 38.
White cat. 1935 38.
Doors and cat. 1956.
Doors and cat. 1956.
Gertrude Abercrombie. Past and present. 1945.
Gertrude Abercrombie. Past and present. 1945.
Gertrude Abercrombie. Leaves and shell. 1953. Art Institute, Chicago.
Gertrude Abercrombie. Leaves and shell. 1953. Art Institute, Chicago.
Gertrude Abercrombie. Walk. 1943.
Gertrude Abercrombie. Walk. 1943.
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