Antigone 1 by Ethel Schwabacher

Women of Abstract Expressionism Artist Ethel Schwabacher

Ethel Schwabacher's diverse influences in painting reflect her rich experience of life. Born in 1903, she grew up in a suburb of New York City and spent time painting in her family's garden. These organic forms would later introduce themselves into her abstract expressionist paintings. Various other subjects interested Schwabacher, including Greek mythology and the unconscious.

A deep immersion in psychoanalysis in Vienna from 1928−1934 contributed to her Freudian understanding of the capacity of the subconscious or unconscious state to reveal truths about ourselves. With the unexpected death of her husband in 1951, Schwabacher's work would propel into representations of anxiety and loss, juxtaposed with her bold and abstract forms. She studied under artist Arshile Gorky from 1934−1936, and wrote the first biography of Gorky. Gorky’s own paintings paralleled her own sensitivity towards the psyche and an interest in dreamlike memories and fantasies. In the 1960s, Schwabacher's work transitioned into more figurative and representational imagery.

Schwabacher also explored her identity as a woman, specifically her roles as wife and mother, in a series of paintings related to womanhood and maternity. Her persistent dive into the psychological capabilities of the human being led to the celebration of the individual.

Schwabacher continued to produce work until her death in 1984.

Image credit: Ethel Schwabacher, Antigone I, 1958. Oil paint on canvas; 51 × 85 in. Collection of Christopher C. Schwabacher and Brenda S. Webster. ©Estate of Ethel Schwabacher

Robin O’Brien is a 2016 intern in the department of learning and engagement. She also is a sales associate in The Shop.