Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Anne Harvey, the 31 Women Number twenty-four, Her Birthday is in November

Anne Harvey was a painter and illustrator, her birthday is in November but I don’t know which day, only that she was born in 1916 and died only 51 years later, in 1967. Marcel Duchamp was a fan, he wanted to arrange a posthumous exhibition of her work, but he too died before this was possible. She is so little known that until now I was unable to find a photograph of her, but this one is from the Met Museum archives. This article on Anne Harvey replaces my earlier, incomplete version.

Anne Harvey, photo by Brancusi
Anne Harvey would be regarded as a European artist, except for the fact that she was born in Chicago in November 1916. She is also not so much a forgotten artist as an artist who was never really known, even though her work was admired by some of the masters of twentieth century art, including Henri Matisse and sculptor Constantin Brancusi. She painted a remarkable portrait of Brancusi when she was only eighteen and this is the only work of hers to have received much acknowledgement outside her immediate circle. Even though you might think you’ve heard of an artist named Anne Harvey, it’s probably not this Anne Harvey, which is a shame. As a painter she was both talented and original.

 Anne was born into a wealthy, educated and unconventional family, she and her brother Jason were sent to progressive schools in the USA. Harry Harvey, their father was an advertising executive and author. He wrote a biography of Debussy, which was published in 1948. Their mother, Dorothy Dudley Harvey was a writer and poet and one of the four famous Dudley sisters, she published a biography of American novelist Theodore Dreisner in 1932.   

 By the time Anne Harvey was twelve she was in Paris, where she never mixed with other children, instead she grew up in the gregarious, emancipated and possibly, for such a quiet, sensitive girl, overwhelming care of Dorothy and her sisters, Katherine and Caroline. They were cultured women who adopted the French artistic scene as their natural metier. The young Anne’s burgeoning creativity was actively encouraged, she became a favourite of many of the artists the family knew, including Jules Pascin, Henri Matisse, Francis Picabia, Joan Miró and sculptors Brancusi and Giacometti.

Anne’s brother Jason was also a painter, but Anne was something of a prodigy and Jason was eclipsed by her talent for many years, he became successful in advertising and industrial design and only began to take his painting seriously in his forties. That Anne was subsequently forgotten is more due to her vulnerable nature and the extreme seclusion she found necessary in her later years than to the quality of her work, which was hugely admired during her lifetime by those who knew her.

 Constantin Brancusi was a family friend and Dorothy Harvey wrote an article about the sculptor which was published in the modernist magazine the Dial. Brancusi became a significant presence in Anne Harvey’s development as an artist, particularly when Matisse, after seeing her work advised her mother to remove Anne from studying with Fernand Leger. His advice was taken and Anne switched to Brancusi. She worked in his studio and her remarkable portrait of the sculptor, painted in 1934, shows her considerable talent even at this early age.  She painted him and Brancusi photographed her; his portraits of her survive, they show a slim, well-dressed young woman who smiles slightly but does not face the camera.

 Unusual amongst the 31 women in that her work generally can’t be classed as either abstract or surrealist, Anne Harvey’s drawings and paintings depict her intense vision of small corners of her world. Her linear style covers the page or canvas with exquisite detail and there is no hint of the surrealists’ obsession with incongruity. However in some images there are small leanings towards abstraction, where the vision allows hints of a different dimension to slip over into her visible world. The picture shown at the Exhibition of 31 Women is believed to have been a still life with abstract qualities.

 Anne and her mother travelled in Europe and 1936 found them hiding in a Barcelona Hotel while the Spanish Civil War surrounded them. They escaped past piles of bodies and retreated to Paris. 1940 found them retreating again, this time to New York, though Anne’s aunts Catherine and Caroline remained in France during the Second World War.

New York did not suit Anne, even though some of her closest friends were also there; these included sculptor Alexander Calder, writer Georges Duthuit and a former lover, surrealist Jean Miro. Anne exhibited twice at Peggy Guggenheim’s Art of This Century gallery, in the 1943  Exhibition of 31 Women and the 1945 show The Women.  She also received her first one woman exhibition, in Chicago in 1945, but her heart was not in the Windy City either and though she painted furiously for the exhibition and sent canvases still wet, she didn’t attend the show. Six of her paintings sold in Chicago, but she returned to France as soon as she was able and her adult career as an artist looked set to bloom.

 Anne Harvey created illustrations in 1948 for her father’s biography of Debussy, in a style reminiscent of Beardsley, but they were rejected by the publisher. She immersed herself in the creation of her art, not its promotion.  Anne once said in an undated letter to her Aunt Caroline, “A painter should first become his model (nude or cabbage) and then the model should be transformed into the painter so as to become impossible to recognise. At least, that’s my idea for the moment.” * This shows the intensity of her involvement with her creativity, often to the exclusion of the outside world.

 Although her work was extraordinary and exquisite, although she was the friend of illustrious names, although she exhibited in Paris at Galerie Jeanine Hao - the owner and her husband, Raymond Mason were good friends - and at Galerie Nina Dausset, her career did not take off. She followed no school or movement to which her art could be attached for promotional gain and she was too reclusive and self-effacing to be any good at self-promotion.

 Anne’s shyness and desire for seclusion meant she had remained dependent on the older generation for too long. One by one her parents and aunts died, as did friends and lovers. She moved into a new smaller studio, but kept working. Her exhibition in 1963 at Galerie Jeanine Hao was the last show in Anne’s lifetime. Friends still kept in touch but, with no family to look out for her, she became more secluded, smoked heavily, ate little and apparently wasted away at the age of only 50. In 1971 her brother Jason Harvey arranged a memorial exhibition at the Robert Schoelkopf Gallery in New York, a prestigious gallery specializing in contemporary figurative art and early-20th-century modernism, then nothing.  

 Anne Harvey was another Chicago born artist whose career was almost forgotten because, like Julia Thecla, she had no famous partner to attach her name to and no children to keep that name alive. She could have vanished completely but for her nephew, Steven Harvey who has kept hold of her reputation and some of her paintings, along with the work of his father, Jason Harvey. Steven arranged for the brother and sister’s paintings and drawings to be exhibited in 2002, alongside his own paintings of modern nudes. This exhibition, at the New York Studio School, was titled ‘Family Line’ and created some interest with the unusual family connections between the artists and in the work of Anne Harvey herself. Steven Harvey continues to look after his aunt’s work and reputation.


     * Anne Harvey's letter to her aunt Caroline is quoted in Henry Lessore's essay - see sources

Comments, corrections and further information about Anne Harvey and her art are very welcome.
You can read about each of the 31 women as their birthdays arrive, earlier ones will remain on this blog.

Sources include :- 

The Amazing Harvey Saga Show at Studio School - The New York Observer, January 21, 2002 

 Catalogue - FAMILY LINE; drawings and paintings by Anne Harvey, Jason Harvey & Steven Harvey, New York Studio School of Drawing, Painting and Sculpture - with essays by Steven Harvey and Henry Lessore - Anne Harvey and Her World 

 Anne Harvey - Woman's Art Journal, Vol. 23, No. 2 (Autumn, 2002 - Winter, 2003),


  1. I always find your posts very interesting and informative, and you've introduced me to so many great women - thank you!
    And happy Thanksgiving (I'm a Brit, but married to an American, so the turkey's in the oven, friends on their way...)

  2. Thanks Claire, I'm always delighted to hear from the very select and elegant few who actually read my posts!

    Have a great thanksgiving
    Sue x

    1. Oooh, I like the thought of being select and elegant :)
      We had a great Thanksgiving, thank you!
      Feel free to drop by whenever you have a spare minute...

  3. You seem to be very select Claire, I don't know anybody else who has had so many blogs - thought I was doing ok with just the two - and definitely elegant, love that photo with hair over one eye! Your deep day blog looks engaging, I will drop in from time to time.... thanks.