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Thursday, August 4, 2016

George Ault

 George Ault--Precisionist, Cubist, Surrealist, realist.
Being an artist doesn't immunize anyone from the standard trials, tribulations, and ongoing pitfalls of life. For some, it tends to sand off the rough edges of life's woes, while for others, it seems to sharpen them, sometimes serving to virtually shred the creative individual's ability to cope with misfortune, whether natural or of the artist's own making. Divorce, destitution, drug abuse, handicaps, physical and mental illnesses, and death, just to name a few, while disturbing to our normal way of life, can be brutally devastating to the sensitive artist as it flows through their psyche and into their art. Some use their art to try to cope. Others find the creative process leaving only open sores. One such artist was the American Realist painter from the early 20th-century, George Ault.
George Ault left no self-portraits and precious few photos of himself.
George Copeland Ault was born into a well-to-do family in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1891. When George was eight, his father moved the family of seven to London, where his printing ink company introduced American prinking ink to Europe. George's father, Charles, was, himself, an amateur painter who sometimes exhibited at the Salon of Paris. He had a number of important artistic contacts, in several major U.S. cities where he supported their art museums. Charles Ault cultivated his son’s childhood interest in art, taking him on trips to London and Paris to see works of the Old Masters. As a child, George Ault was often ill with rheumatic fever, which preventing him from attending school until he was eight. In London, as a teenager, Ault attended the University College School, the Slade School of the University of London, and St. John’s Wood School of Art. St. John’s Wood was the site of his first exhibition in 1908. Ault's art education in London was based on British Impressionism. He was taught a reliance on memory over the aid of photographs or sketches. His education was, for the most part, conservative and quite apart from the avant-garde European movements from which he later took inspiration.
From Brooklyn Heights,
1925, George Ault
Ault's family moved back to the U.S. in 1911, settling in the New York City suburb of Hillside, New Jersey. Three years later, Ault married Beatrice Hoffman. They set up a home and studio in Hillside. With the influence of his conservative, British training, Ault began experimenting with various representations of landscapes and architecture. He quickly developed an interested in the urban environment, as his works began to suggest a slicker, heightened style of realism, combined with a cubist’s interest in geometry. During the 1920s Ault participated in several exhibitions of the Society of Independent Artists, and later at the Whitney Studio Club. Gradually, Ault became estranged from his wife and moved to New York City with the financial aid of his father, who nonetheless disapproved of Ault’s unemployment and modernist painting tend-encies. Ault had several solo exhibitions at gal-leries in New York, Newark, Los Angeles, and Whitney Museums.
January Full Moon, 1941, George Ault
Ault worked in oil, watercolors, and pencil. He has often been grouped with Precisionist painters such as Charles Sheeler and Ralston Crawford because of his unadorned representations of architecture and urban landscapes. However, the ideology and modernism of Precisionism are not overtly apparent in his work. He considered the industrialized American city "the Inferno without the fire," and once referred to skyscrapers as the "tombstones of capitalism." Ault painted what he saw around him, simplifying detail somewhat into flat shapes and planes, to reveal the underlying geometric patterns of his structures. Ault was an analytical painter as well as a realist, noted for his realistic portrayal of the light of darkness. He very often painted nighttime scenes. His later paintings, include works such as January, Full Moon (above) from 1941, and Bright Light at Russell's Corners (below-bottom), probably his most famous piece.
Ault's work is sometimes compared to that of
Edward Hopper and Rockwell Kent.
Even as Ault gathered critical acclaim, he found himself in physical and mental decline. Before he was thirty years old, Ault suffered the death of his physically and psychologically troubled mother, lost his brother Donald, whose wife died with him in a suicide pact, and developed reclusive tendencies as he became dependent on alcohol. He soon alienated important people in his life such as the prominent dealer, Edith Halpert. He sought a divorce in 1935 after becoming involved with Louise Jonas, an aspiring writer from Iowa. During these years also, Ault lost his father to cancer and when the family fortune vanished during the Great Depression, his two remaining brothers committed suicide. His only sister, Esther, provided him with financial support which allowed Ault to spend summers in the artistic community of Woodstock N.Y. There Ault produced a total of sixty-seven paintings for the Treasury Relief Art Project and the Works Progress Administration. Ault and Louise made a permanent move to Woodstock in 1937 though the two lived apart from the artistic community, in a rundown house a mile from town. They continued to endure financial hardships. George often traded artwork for services, giving two oil paintings to a dentist who provided care for Louise. Ault began to find more success amid the post-war boom, coupled with continued attempts to improve his sobriety. Some of his best works date from this period.

Studio Interiors, Woodstock, 1940s, George Ault.
However, on December 30, 1948, Ault was discovered dead five days after having drowned in Sawkill Brook while taking a walk alone during dark, stormy weather. The death was ruled a suicide by the coroner, though Louise Jonas contested the decision, claiming Ault had suffered a fall due to a section of missing guard rail and poor health. Given his family history, I would tend to believe the coroner's report.

Corn from Iowa, 1940, George Ault,
one of his few still-lifes.
Nude and Torso, 1945,
George Ault, one of his
still more rare nudes.

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