Ogunquit Museum of American Art
The Art of Arthur Getz: The New Yorker Covers
by John Dirks, Director
When Arthur Getz died on January 19th, 1996 at the age of eighty-two, Lee Lorenz, who was his editor at The New Yarker from 1973, wrote in part: "In fifty years at the magazine, Arthur produced two hundred and ten covers" [some counted 213] -- "more than any other contributor. He drew inspiration equally from the night clubs of Manhattan and the apple orchards of New England; but his covers, taken as a group, seem really to be about the joy of painting itself. He preferred a high-keyed palette, and laid on his colors with an energy and directness that often led him to the edge of Abstract Expressionism. The apparent spontaneity of his work was deceptive; each cover was preceded by numberless sketches, and often three or more "finished" versions were offered to us."
"He was a widely read man with a well informed interest in all the arts, particularly dance. He was a natural teacher, and generous in his response to the work of others. Arthur was not vain, but he never undervalued his own work. In the past few years, interest in it has been rising among collectors, and not long ago he told me that he was now receiving more for his paintings than ever before. "How much more' I asked. "More than The New Yorker can afford to pay me," he said proudly." Lee Lorenz, Family Album: ARTHUR GETZ (from The New Yorker, February 5, 1996)
Arthur Kimmig Getz was born in 1913 in Passaic, NJ. of Dutch Reform parents. Although there was no background of art in his family, Getz was granted a full art scholarship to the School of Fine and Applied Art, Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, NY., while he was still in high school. Three years later, he graduated from Pratt with honors. In 1935, Getz moved to New York City and began submitting work to The New Yorker. His first spot drawing was accepted there one year later; and in 1938 his first cover was printed. He was just twenty-five. But the lingering effects of the Great Depression made life hard for the young artist, especially since he chose to devote his greatest efforts to his first, passionate interest: "fine" art.
His friends included Willem de Kooning, Moses Soyer (who, in 1960 would write the essay for Getz's first New York one-man show), and Philip Guston. Thanks to Guston's advice and help, Getz was awarded several commissions for murals under the auspices of the W.P.A. program, including one for the Textile Building at the 1939-40 New York World's Fair; and for post offices in Alabama, Michigan, and New York.
After serving from 1942 to 1946 in World War II as a First Lieutenant of Field Artillery in the Phillipines, Getz returned to New York and once again took up work at The New Yovker. He was now thirty-three.
The year 1948 marks an Important step in the artist's development: ten years after his first New Yorker cover, Getz was beginning to employ the dramatic use of light (both real and artificial) and contrasting darkness that was to characterize much of his subsequent work. The May 1, 1948 cover shows a Manhattan cross-street, buildings dark in shadow at the bottom, blazing at the top in a cloudless sunset. (Like many of Getz's best paintings, it is most certainly in some fortunate person's private collection) .
The period of the artist's greatest productivity had begun: between 1950 and 1988, no fewer than two hundred and seven of his paintings appeared on the covers of The New Yorker. During that time he also continued to create his personal definition of "fine" art (as opposed to commercial magazine work); had ten one-man shows, and was a contributor to sixteen others. As he himself had already foreseen, Getz's New Yorker success had a negative side. In his one-man show at the Babcock Gallery in 1960, Getz was asked to use only his middle name, Kimmig, so as not to sully the gallery's reputation with a "commercial" artist.
During these fruitful years, Getz also began teaching art; first in 1966 at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. After moving to Sharon, CT. in 1969, he taught at the University of Connecticut, Torrington. Three years later, he started teaching at the Washington Art Association in Washington Depot, CT. where he continued as instructor and member of the Board of Trustees until his retirement in 1992.
The last Getz New Yorker cover appeared on August 29, 1988. "Hotel at 3 A.M." is a striking nocturnal piece, showing a country inn with reflecting pool. Although one might think of it as a "closure," the work was actually painted and bought by the magazine a dozen years earIn 1990, Getz announced his "retirement" from The New Yorker in order to turn his energies to full-time painting. In failing health that finally rendered him partially blind, he continued to do what he loved most until his death in 1996.
We are most grateful to Sarah Getz, the artist's daughter, who loaned us all the artwork for this exhibition, and who gave us valuable insights into Arthur Getz's life. We visited her in Sharon, CT and saw her father's studio -- compact, no frills, a place to get things done. Sarah remembers her father with pride: his creative energy, his inspired teaching, his dislike of snobbery and pretension, his love for nature and the common man, his humor and compassion.
Arthur Kimmig Getz was a man of many parts, a free spirit. His works can be found in countless museums and private collections. I believe it is no discredit to him to say that most of us will remember him best for the half-century of work he did for The New Yorker. Le style, c'est l'homme meme.
Our thanks to The New Yorker for permission to reproduce its cover art, as well as portions of the Lee Lorenz eulogy that appeared in that magazine.
From top to bottom: Arthur Getz, Theatregoers Waiting for Car, Night Parking Lot, 1953, casein tempera, 24 x 18 inches, lent by Sarah Getz; Arthur Getz, Movie Cashier, 1961, casein tempera, 24 x 18 inches, lent by Sarah Getz
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