Editor's note: The following 2005 essay were reprinted February 16, 2005 in Resource Library with permission of the Georgia Museum of Art, University of Georgia. The text was written in connection with the exhibit Andrée Ruellan, Ever Young. If you have questions or comments regarding the essay, please contact the Georgia Museum of Art directly through either this phone number or web address:
Andrée Ruellan, Ever Young
by Andrew Ladis
Historians cannot afford to believe in fate, but, on occasion, time and the world serve up a life so precocious, so artful as to tempt even the steeliest empiricist: Such is the career of Andrée Ruellan. Born in New York in 1905 to French-emigré parents, in touch early in life with leading artists in America and in France yet almost self-taught, Ruellan bridges two continents, two cultures, and effectively three centuries. At the age of eight, she saw the Armory Show of 1913, which introduced her, along with the rest of America, to the most daring, indeed, cliché-shattering examples of European modernism; the following year she met Robert Henri, who was impressed enough with her talent to invite her to exhibit with him, George Bellows, and others at St. Mark's in the Bowery. Subsequently, she also participated in the MacDowell Club's annual exhibition, and, in 1914, the nine-year-old prodigy joined the ranks of professional artists by having her illustration, Spring, published in the left-wing journal, New Masses. As a mere teenager in 1920, Ruellan accepted a scholarship to the Art Students League, where Henri imparted his New World ideas and where Maurice Sterne provided a living inspiration to the tradition of European art. After following Sterne to Rome, where he was opening a new school in the shadow of ancient vistas, she and her mother eventually settled in Paris in 1923. For the next five-and-a-half years, Ruellan formed part of a glittering circle of writers, artists, and personalities, including the likes of James Joyce, Gertrude and Leo Stein, Stuart Davis, Jules Pascin, along with Man Ray, who photographed her, and Isamu Noguchi, who wanted to marry her. In 1925 she had her first one-person show at the Galérie Sacre du Printemps in Paris, and upon her return to America in 1928, she had her second at the Weyhe Gallery in New York. Her earliest drawings have the erratic, quivering line of the automatic drawings of the Dadaists, yet somehow are also informed by the example of Ingres; her compositions offer up the seeming-casualness of the everyday world, as commonplace as anything from the Eight or the Regionalists, yet as carefully calculated as the work of Chardin; her paintings display the feathery brushwork and luminosity reminiscent of the Impressionists, yet at the same time a feeling for form and structure akin to Poussin. In the art of Andrée Ruellan present and past, modern and classic, America and France are one.
During the years of the Depression, the war, and its aftermath, Ruellan and her husband, the painter John Taylor, traveled several times to the South, notably to Charleston and Savannah, but eventually to New Orleans and Florida as well. The South -- the streets of Charleston, the docks of Savannah, and Mardi Gras in New Orleans -- provided rich material for her to rework in her studio. Crap Game (1936), based on Ruellan's experience in Charleston, is a major painting of her early maturity and a work of quietly tempered subtlety. A vaguely rectangular frieze of eight figures occupies the center, an empty field of sky and earth divided by the gray horizon and framed by the buildings at either side and a metal catwalk above. The figures' feet and legs, four strips of lumber, and a broad band of shadow, as well as the actors' concentrated gazes, progressively more contracted poses, and ever-darkening colors pull them to the center, to the bottom of the composition, to the ground, while paradoxically drawing us into a game that we cannot see. Indeed, the tension between the figures' participation and the viewer's frustration almost simulates the anxiousness of the split-second moment before the tumbling dice come to a stop. At the same time, the entire image seems frozen and silent in the pregnant instant before an unforeseeable outcome and the cacophonous whoops it still elicits as the noisiest sport in gambling.
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