Charmion Von Wiegand


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Painter, collage artist, and art writer. Born in Chicago, she lived during childhood in San Francisco and went to high school in Berlin. Self-taught as an artist, after graduating from Barnard College in New York, she enrolled in the journalism school at Columbia University. She also studied art history there and at New York University. In the mid-1920s, while working as a newspaper reporter, she began to paint, at first mostly landscapes in a somewhat expressionist style. In 1929 she went to Moscow for three years, as correspondent for the Hearst newspapers. After her 1932 marriage in New York to leftist writer Joseph Freeman, a founder of New Masses and later, Partisan Review, she soon turned to painting and writing about art on a full-time basis. She contributed regularly to his magazines, as well as others, including Art Front, for which she also served as an editor. After meeting Mondrian in 1941, she wrote the first article explaining the principles of his neoplasticism to an American audience. The Dutch expatriate's art and philosophy convinced her to work abstractly, and through his encouragement she joined the American Abstract Artists, later serving a term as the organization's president. In the early 1940s von Wiegand worked with Mondrian's restricted vocabulary of horizontal and vertical lines combined with primary colors. Soon she relaxed her means to accommodate a subtly contemplative and mystically tinged sensibility, enriched by her study of Asian—particularly Tibetan Buddhist—art and philosophy. Although her rhythmic, harmonious, and delicate paintings continued generally to rely on simple geometric structures, she sometimes enlivened them with offbeat shapes and consistently enriched their effects with exquisitely chosen color. Executed in yellow with black, white, and shades of gray, the intricate, twinkling City Lights (Whitney Museum, 1947) consists mostly of small rectangles, but here and there raylike shapes occur, and at the center top a black line supporting a tiny white circle whimsically suggests a globular street light. In the late 1940s, impressed by Kurt Schwitters's work, she began to make collages. Although these, too, usually depend on underlying grid structures, they often are compositionally less stringent than her paintings. Frequently they include illustrations, decorative materials such as lace, and elements referring to Tibetan or other exotic cultures. During her final two decades, she painted iconic, patterned works that overtly incorporate her spiritual interests in Buddhist traditions and her travel experiences in India and Tibet. She died in New York.

Subjects: Art.

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