Will Barnet

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Will Barnet
Born (1911-05-25)May 25, 1911
Beverly, Massachusetts
Died November 13, 2012(2012-11-13) (aged 101)
New York City
Nationality American
Education School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (Philip Leslie Hale)
Art Students League of New York (Stuart Davis, Charles Locke)
Known for Painting, printmaking
Awards Ordre des Arts et des Lettres Chevalier ribbon.svg Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres

Will Barnet (May 25, 1911 – November 13, 2012)[1][2] was an American artist known for his paintings, watercolors, drawings, and prints depicting the human figure and animals, both in casual scenes of daily life and in transcendent dreamlike worlds.


Born in 1911 in Beverly, Massachusetts, Barnet knew by the age of ten that he wanted to be an artist. As a student, he studied with Philip Leslie Hale at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and viewed first-hand John Singer Sargent at work on the murals of the Boston Public Library. In 1930, Barnet studied at the Art Students League of New York, with Stuart Davis and Charles Locke, beginning his long association with the school. Here he concentrated on painting as well as printmaking, and, in 1936, he became the official printer for the Art Students League. There, he later instructed students in the graphic arts at the school and taught alongside the likes of Yasuo Kuniyoshi, Robert Beverly Hale and Richard Pousette-Dart. Barnet influenced a generation of artists, including James Rosenquist, Knox Martin, Emil Milan, Paul Jenkins and Cy Twombly.[3] Barnet continued his love of teaching with positions at the Cooper Union, at Yale University, and at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. He had three sons, Peter, Richard, and Todd Barnet, by his first wife Mary Sinclair. Barnet later married Elena Barnet, with whom he had a daughter, Ona Barnet.[4]


A longtime resident of the National Arts Club, Barnet died in New York City on November 13, 2012, at the age of 101.


Barnet's works, while remaining universal, reference his own personal history complete with images of his wife, his daughter, and their family pets. As James Thomas Flexner wrote, Barnet’s work “makes us experience the interplay between the personal and the universal.” While remaining representational, the simple elegance of the figures and their flat surfaces reflect his exploration with abstraction. He was a key figure in the New York movement called Indian Space Painting, artists who based their abstract and semi-abstract work on Native American art. For many years he pursued abstraction in painting, then a fashionable trend in the USA. His later work returned to figurative painting. He is probably best known for his enigmatic portraits of family, made from the 1970s onwards, notably the Silent Seasons series. However, his earlier works maintain an edginess and brooding contemplation that is even more remarkable when compared with the more placid and pretty works which followed his second marriage.

His works have entered virtually every major public collection in the United States, including, the National Gallery of Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, The Jewish Museum, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. He has been the subject of over eighty solo exhibitions held at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, the Museum of American Art of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, the National Academy of Design Museum, the National Museum of American Art, Montclair Art Museum, the Boca Raton Museum of Art, and Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, among others.

Awards and honors

Barnet was the recipient of numerous awards, including the first Artist's Lifetime Achievement Award Medal given on the occasion of the National Academy of Design’s 175th anniversary, the College Art Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award,[5] the Philadelphia Academy of Fine Art’s Lippincott Prize, and the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters’ Childe Hassam Prize. He was an elected member of the National Academy of Design, the Century Association, and the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Barnet defined an artistic career that, in the words of Robert Doty, “has always gone beyond the limitations of modern art because his work affirms a faith in life.” Barnet was awarded the 2011 National Medal of Arts by President Barack Obama.[6] In 2012, France conferred the insignia of Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters on Barnet.[7]


  1. Decker, Andrew (2011-06-01). "Will Barnet at 100". ArtfixDaily.com. Retrieved 2011-06-06.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. http://www.pressherald.com/life/Painter-Will-Barnet-dies-at-101.html
  3. France Honors Will Barnet with the Order of Arts and Letters
  4. Robert Doty, Will Barnet (New York: Harry N. Abrams), 144-145.
  5. "College Art Association Announces 2007 Award Winners". ARTINFO. December 20, 2007. Retrieved 2008-05-19 Cite journal requires |journal= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Gelfand, Janelle (February 13, 2012). "National Medal of Arts Awards, 1:45 p.m. today". The Cincinnati Enquirer. Retrieved February 13, 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. France Honors Will Barnet with the Order of Arts and Letters

External links