Abraham Rattner


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Painter and printmaker. Known for expressionist figural works and landscapes, he employed a modern vocabulary to address timeless themes of suffering, death, and spiritual joy. Born in Poughkeepsie, New York, he began his training in Washington, D.C., at George Washington University and the Corcoran School of Art (now Corcoran College of Art and Design). He then enrolled at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, but his studies were soon interrupted by World War I service in the U.S. Army. He returned to the academy but left for Europe in 1920. He lived chiefly in Paris, where he pursued additional training and established his career as a masterful colorist and accomplished draftsman. By the time of his repatriation at the outbreak of World War II, he had thoroughly absorbed cubism, futurism, and other modern modes of figuration. Picasso and Georges Rouault numbered among particularly strong influences. Rattner lost most of his interwar painting when he left Paris. During ensuing years, the Bible provided an important source of themes, although even scenes of everyday life often speak with religious intensity. As a Jew, Rattner naturally turned to the Old Testament, but he also drew on universal meanings available in New Testament subjects. Commenting on man's inhumanity to man, Transcendence (Brooklyn Museum, 1943) depicts the body of Christ before the cross, with mourners and soldiers suggested to one side. A series of overlapping heads starts with Christ's visage of earthly suffering and ends with a youthful, spiritualized face. Rattner's characteristically rich colors and a skillful melding of representation and abstraction unify this strange but powerful visualization. Some later works moved close to abstract expressionism. Strong and freely brushed colors dominate the figural structure in Song of Esther (Whitney Museum, 1958). Rattner also executed a number of decorative commissions, including tapestries, mosaics, and stained glass windows. He died in New York. In 1949 he married painter and printmaker Esther Gentle (1905–98), whose early representational work moved toward abstraction in the 1940s. She also maintained a New York gallery for a number of years.

Subjects: Art.

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