Andree Descharnes Biography

Andree Descharnes was born in 1923 in Nevers, France. She graduated from the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris during the Occupation, and also worked in the Resistance with members of her family led by Pierre Auclair, Resistance leader and France's Grand-master Freemason of the Lodge of the "Grand Orient." After graduating from the Beaux Arts and plotting maps for the American Armed Forces, Andree began designing wallpaper and fabric. But it is in Floral and Still-life painting that she truly excelled and to which she eventually devoted every spare moment of her time. A classicist in the tradition of Poussin and Chardin, Descharnes also followed Montaigne's "Juste Milieu" philosophy of subtle intelligence and grace. The truth she uncovered in the simple objects she depicted has a zen like immediacy captured with an almost miraculous brushwork. When celebrated art historian Argan saw one of Descharnes paintings in her and spouse Alfred Russell's apartment in Trastevere, he was convinced it was a seventeenth century Dutch Masterpiece. Andree Descharnes and Alfred Russell met when he had his first Paris exhibit as a central figure in the group of abstract expressionists who worked in both Paris and New York. The two were married in 1949 with Ad Reinhardt serving as best man. During the early fifties, Descharnes concentrated on pen and ink drawings and watercolors of the world around her, such as the breakfast table or the views out the window of the Paris apartment, all done in a nervous "Giacometti style." In the mid fifties Alfred Russell began copying masterpieces in the Louvre. This period proved a turning point in both artists' careers. For Alfred Russell it spawned a renewed interest in the classical tradition of the past, not only in the paintings of sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, but also in the sculpture and philosophy of the Greeks and in the use of the Figure as an Abstract language. In 1956 Alfred Russell and Andree Descharnes had a daughter, Elsie, while they were living in Surrealist painter Kurt Seligmann's "Villa Seurat," an early Modernist House in Paris's 14th arrondissement, as Alfred Russell was on sabbatical from his teaching job at Brooklyn College. Andree did not start painting still-lives until seven years later, when her childcare and textile design duties became less demanding. While the family spent much of 1961 living in Nice, France, Andree started a series of floral paintings, with the beautiful roses that grew in the enclosed garden behind the house. Several of these paintings are on view in the museum. She went on to paint a variety of still-life subjects, always emphasizing the living elements within a formal compositional structure, for instance, one lemon amidst an arrangement of reflective silver objects. Andree Descharnes died prematurely in 1976 after a long battle with cancer. Much of her small but exquisite oeuvre of oil paintings and drawings is on exhibit here.

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