The Morgan Receives Collection of WWII Drawings and Sketches by Philip Pearlstein

PP15815.jpgNew York, NY, November 15, 2016 — In June, 1943, upon completion of his freshman year of art school at the Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh, Philip Pearlstein was drafted into the U.S. Army and sent to Alabama for basic training. Given his artistic background, he was subsequently assigned to the visual-aids shop which was charged with producing charts, map keys, and manuals for use by army personnel. Pearlstein would learn various commercial art skills, silk-screening, and printing techniques in this work, and he would use his spare time both in the U.S. and after his transfer overseas to make sketches and watercolors of everyday army life. 

This unusual and surprising cache of works by the celebrated artist—better known today for his depictions of nudes in the studio— would survive the war and recently had a showing at New York’s Betty Cuningham Gallery. More than ninety of the drawings and sketches have come to the Morgan through a generous donation from Jane and David Walentas and Bruce Weber and Nan Bush. The museum retains one of the world’s greatest collections of works on paper and has been building its holdings of modern and contemporary drawings. These are the first works by Pearlstein to come into the museum’s collections. 

”Philip Pearlstein has said he learned much about himself and his future career during his time in the service,” said Colin B. Bailey, director of the Morgan. “While stationed in Italy, he was able to visit palaces and churches where great works of art were on view. Upon his return to his native Pittsburgh, inspired by what he saw and with his portfolio of army work in hand, he was hired to be an assistant in the Carnegie Institute art department. His long and distinguished career had begun.”

“The Morgan is deeply grateful to Jane and David Walentas and to Bruce Weber and Nan Bush for this exceptional gift. The museum is not only recognized for its superb collection of drawings, but also for work that speaks to an artist’s process and growth. This gift is a fine example of that.”

Among the works coming to the Morgan are a number of items undertaken for the army visual-aids shop, including a deck of silkscreened flashcards of map symbols. The majority of the collection involves drawings done by Pearlstein during more casual moments, recording the reality of life as a G.I. in basic training, the crossing of the Atlantic in a ship convoy, and landscapes and civilians the artist encountered in his travels.

After the war, Pearlstein would graduate from the Carnegie Institute on the G.I. bill and move to New York to begin a career as a graphic artist. His companion on his move was a younger friend named Andy Warhola. They became roommates and both began work in catalog and magazine illustration. Their careers in the fine arts would blossom in the 1950s and 1960s, with Pearlstein becoming a major representative of the figurative tradition in postwar American art.

Image: Philip Pearlstein, Soldiers Resting (study for bayonet practice), 1943, Pen and ink on paper, 10 5/8 x 13 9/10 in. The Morgan Library & Museum. © Philip Pearlstein.

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