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Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Andrée Ruellan

Savannah Landscape, the City Market, 1942 Andrée Ruellan

Portrait of Andree Ruellan,
1930, photo from 2002.
Actuarial tables tell us that, in general, women live longer than men. I don't think that's quite fair but, as the old saying reminds us, "Whoever said life was fair?" The same longevity afforded the aging female population no doubt applies to women artists; just look how long Mary Robertson Moses lived (Grandma Moses for those unfamiliar with Folk Art). She was 101 when she died. Until today, I would have said she was the only centenarian artist of either gender I could name. Then I came upon Andree Ruellan. This New York City born lady took her first breath in 1905 and died in 2006. Actually, she lived four days longer than Grandma Moses' record. Although they were both from the Northeast, that's about where the similarities end. Grandma Moses was seventy-eight when she first began painting. Andree Ruellan began to paint and draw as a child of eight.

April, 1914, Andree Ruellan,
age eight.

Andree Ruellan was of French descent, her parents ardent socialists who came to America about the turn of the century for political reasons, though history doesn't record the specifics. Recognizing their only daughter's precocious talent, they arranged private art instruction starting about the age of eight. In 1914, Andree created her first published work, April (right) which appeared in the socialist monthly, The Masses, next to an editorial on religious hypocrisy. About the same time, the young artist came to the attention of the Social Realism painter, Robert Henri, who arranged for her to show some of her watercolors and drawings in a show at St. Mark's Church in-the-Bowery, where he and George Bellows also exhibited. In the years that followed, Andree Ruellen's "career" was far from smooth sailing. She was injured in a fire as a child, and later, her father died while she was still in her teens. As a result, Andree began selling her works to help support herself and her widowed mother. In 1920, still only fifteen, she won a scholarship to study at the Art Students League with the painter, Maurice Sterne, whom she followed to Rome on yet another scholarship. Following that, Andree and her mother lived in Paris for the next five years. There, she had her first one-woman show followed a year later (1928) by a second show when they returned to New York. While in Paris, Andree Ruellan met an American artist, John (Jack) Taylor whom she married. The couple, along with her mother, settled in the artist community of Woodstock, New York.

The Coal Delivery, Andree Ruellan,
early 1930s
The Bavarian Chimney Sweep,
1932, Andree Ruellan
During the troubling times of the 1930s, Ruellan's style matured, influenced by Social Realism but with overtones of Modernism. Her Pen and ink wash images such as The Coal Delivery (above, left) and her drawing of The Bavarian Chimney Sweep (above, right) from 1932 are typical of her Ruellan's work from this period. Working somewhat like a modern-day paparazzi, Ruellan would often hide her sketchpad behind a newspaper when working, or sit in a car with the windows rolled up so as to capture the natural routine of the everyday lives of those around her. Unlike many artists during the Great Depression, Ruellan and her husband maintained gallery representation and were thus able to continue selling her work.

Sixth Avenue, 1940, Andree Ruellan
By the middle of the decade, Andree had saved enough for a trip south to Charleston and Savannah. There Ruellan encountered a whole new world unlike any she'd known in New York (above) or Paris. Her Savannah Landscape, the City Market (top), from 1942, is the first of her works to be owned by a museum--the Metropolitan in New York. Following their initial visit to the South, Andree, her husband, and her mother returned several more times during which her work took on a distinctly southern flavor, minus the frenzied hustle of the North. Her Spring in Georgia (below) from 1941, a post office mural in Lawrenceville, Georgia, eschews even the plodding workday of the southern urban landscape for an agrarian view of the deep south on the eve of WW II.

Spring In Georgia, 1941, Andrée Ruellan, post office mural, Lawrenceville, GA.
Later in life, during the 1970s, Andree Ruellan's work took on somewhat more abstract qualities as she explored the simplicities of floral art. There was a notable return to her French roots. Her Flowers (below, left) from 1975, and her Flowers on a Green Table (below, right) mark Ruellan's work as being quite atypical of that of most women artists of the time. It's pretty hard to paint flowers in the style of Social Realism. Along with landscapes, toiling laborers, and expressionist flowers, Ruellan was also fascinated by circus performers, as see in in her Dog Circus (bottom) dating as far back as 1930. It's hard to imagine living to be a hundred years old, but still harder to imagine an art career starting at age eight and spanning some ninety-three years. Grandma Moses' career as a painter pales in comparison.

Flowers, 1975, Andree Ruellan
Flowers on a Green Table, Andre Ruellan
Dog Circus, ca. 1930, Andree Ruellan



  1. I have just discovered Andree Ruellan via my first visit to the Georgia Museum of Art. Am I correct in thinking the portrait from 1930 she is holding up, is a self portrait ?
    On a separate note - what a great site/blog !

  2. Kosovo--

    Yes, the painting Andree holds is, indeed, a self-portrait painted when she was twenty-five.

    Thanks for your comment.