MacIver, Loren (1909–1998)

views updated

MacIver, Loren (1909–1998)

American artist . Born Loren Newman on February 2, 1909, in New York City; died on May 3, 1998, in New York City; daughter of Charles Augustus Paul Newman and Julia MacIver Newman; married Lloyd Frankenberg (a poet), in 1929 (died 1975).

A 20th-century artist acclaimed for her half-abstract landscapes, city views, and close-ups of inanimate objects, all rendered with a luminous use of color, Loren MacIver was born in New York City in 1909. Self-taught except for a single year of Saturday classes at the Art Students League in Manhattan when she was ten, MacIver (who as a young woman began using the maiden name her mother had retained after her marriage) painted throughout her youth but felt no special ambition to turn what she considered a hobby into a career. Others, however, recognized her considerable talent—particularly her husband, Lloyd Frankenberg, a poet whom she married in 1929. Their relationship was mutually stimulating, as her paintings often inspired his poetry and displayed many of the ideals he put into words. He began her professional career without her knowledge in 1935, when he showed The Shack to Alfred H. Barr, the director of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), who purchased it for the museum. (Barr also purchased another of her paintings for his private collection.)

From 1936 to 1939, MacIver achieved her first measure of fame while working on the New York Federal Arts Project. She had her first solo show in 1938, at Marian Willard 's East River Gallery; the catalogue contained an introduction by Alfred Steiglitz. A second show was held in 1940, at the Pierre Matisse Gallery, which would continue to represent her until it closed 50 years later.

MacIver has been called "one of the few genuinely independent artists" of the 1940s and early 1950s. Her themes were, for the most part, decidedly urban during this period. Among her best-known pieces were Hopscotch (1940), Oil Slick (1940), The Violet Hour (1943), Pushcart (1944), and Taxi (1951), although she also undertook such non-urban topics as Tree and Puddle (both 1945). A portrait series of clowns, including one of Jimmy Savo in 1944 and another of Emmett Kelly in 1947, is an example of her infrequent use of human subjects. The work created in those productive years afforded the means for MacIver and her husband to travel to England, France, Ireland, Scotland, and Italy in 1948. These locations provided new vistas for her talent, resulting in larger and more vivid paintings. Cathedral (1949), Dublin and Environs (1950), and Venice (1949)—the latter considered by some to be one of her best—were products of her trip to Europe.

MacIver counted among her friends such American poets as Elizabeth Bishop, Marianne Moore , and e.e. cummings, and with her husband spent many summers in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, local details of which were occasionally the subjects of her paintings. By 1960, she was experimenting with texture, using cloth, paper, and pastels. She continued to paint, expanding on her poetic, introspective style, most obviously in Night Shadows (1961). During the 1960s, MacIver and Frankenberg returned several times to Europe and also visited Istanbul, which was the inspiration for her 1965 paintings Byzantium and Blue Mosque. In 1966, she moved to Paris, a location she always favored, and was given a retrospective at the Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris in 1968. She returned to the United States in 1970. Among the works inspired by her time in France were Le Marché à Toulon, Patisserie, and First Snow.

MacIver received numerous awards and grants for her work, including a Ford Foundation grant in 1960, a Mark Rothko Foundation grant in 1972, a Guggenheim Foundation fellowship in 1976, and a grant from the Pollock-Krasner Foundation in 1992. She was awarded first prize from the Corcoran Gallery of Art in 1957 and from the Art Institute of Chicago in 1961, exhibited at the Venice Biennale in 1962, and received a purchase prize from the Krannert Art Museum at the University of Illinois-Urbana in 1963. In addition to these prestigious accomplishments, MacIver was one of the few women at the time to be elected to the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters in New York City. She had several retrospectives across the country, including ones at the Whitney Museum of Art, the Phillips Collection in Washington, the Montclair Museum of Art in New Jersey, Newport Harbor Museum in Orange County, California, and the Addison Gallery of American Art in Andover, Massachusetts. Highly regarded in Europe as well, MacIver also had exhibitions at the Toulouse Museum of Fine Arts, the Musée des Beaux Arts in Lyons, and the Musée Ponchettes in Nice. Among the many museums which hold her work in permanent collections are the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the Bibliothèque Nationale, the Detroit Institute of Art, the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., the Brooklyn Museum, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in California.

Although she rarely spoke or wrote publicly about her art, a statement included in the catalog to a 1946 group exhibition may serve to illustrate how successful the artist was in achieving her aims. "My wish is to make something permanent out of the transitory," she wrote. Loren MacIver died at her home in Greenwich Village on May 3, 1998.


Candee, Marjorie Dent, ed. Current Biography. NY: H.W. Wilson, 1953.

The New York Times. May 24, 1998, p. 36.

related media:

Loren MacIver, film by Maryette Charlton (late 1960s).

Judith C. Reveal , freelance writer, Greensboro, Maryland