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 John Atherton  (1900 - 1952)

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Lived/Active: Vermont/California/Minnesota/New Brunswick / Canada      Known for: magic realist and surreal painting, illustration

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Ad Code: 3
John Carleton Atherton
from Auction House Records.
Industrial Landscape
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
For John Atherton there was no line drawn between "fine" and "commercial" art. He painted pictures for advertisers, magazine covers, and galleries alike.  All were characterized by his strong sense of design and color.

Atherton was born in Brainerd, Minnesota, studied at the College of the Pacific, and the California School of Fine Arts in San Francisco.  He first worked in a number of West-Coast art studios learning the basics of his craft.  When he won a $500 first prize award in the annual exhibit of the Bohemian Club in 1929, it financed his move to New York.

There, he began to do illustrations for advertisers, including General Motors, Container Corporation of America, and Shell Oil, and covers for Fortune, Holiday, and The Saturday Evening Post.

His first one-man show was held in Manhattan in 1936.  In the "Artists for Victory" show in 1943, his painting, The Black Horse, won the $3,000 fourth prize from among 14,000 entries.  It now hangs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. His work is also represented at the Whitney Museum, Museum of Modern Art, Chicago Art Institute, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, The Albright Art Gallery in Buffalo, and the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford.

Atherton's great avocation was fishing.  He tied flies of original design expertly, was a member of the Anglers' Club, and author of a book, The Fly and the Fish.  His death occurred while he was on a salmon-fishing trip in New Brunswick, Canada.  He was survived by his wife, Maxine Breeze.

Walt and Roger Reed , The Illustrator in America, 1880-1980; A Century of Illustration

This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Born in Brainerd, MN on June 7, 1900, Atherton was educated at the College of the Pacific and at the CSFA.  During the 1920s he lived in San Francisco.  He did illustrations for Saturday Evening Post (mostly regionalist works) and other periodicals, and painted landscapes in oil, pastel, and watercolor. 

In 1929 he moved to NYC and ultimately to Arlington, Vermont.  He died in New Brunswick, Canada while on a fishing trip on Sept. 15, 1952.  His widow was artist Maxine Breeze.

Exh: Berkeley League of FA, 1924 (award), 1925; SFAA, 1925-29; Bohemian Club, 1926 (award), 1928 (1st prize); Conn. WC Society, 1940; Artists for Victory, 1942; DeYoung Museum, 1943. In: MOMA; Whitney Museum; AIC; MM; Hartford Atheneum; PAFA.
Edan Hughes, "Artists in California, 1786-1940"
Who's Who in American Art 1938-53 (obituary).
Nearly 20,000 biographies can be found in Artists in California 1786-1940 by Edan Hughes and is available for sale ($150). For a full book description and order information please click here.

Biography from Levis Fine Art:
Being paired with the likes of John Steuart Curry and the Regionalist movement, John Atherton paved his own artistic future by depicting nostalgic scenes of Americana which highlighted his technical background as an illustrator.

As early as 1942, art critics repudiated Atherton's attempt to successfully exist as both an illustrator and a serious artist, but the techniques and tools implemented in Atherton's work as an illustrator were ultimately the same things which he received high praise for in the world of fine art: his attention to detail, dramatic use of the foreground, and his subtle use of color to evoke a certain mood.

In 1943, Atherton won the $3,000 fourth prize, among 14,000 entries, for his painting, The Black Horse, which now hangs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.  In the same year he participated in the landmark American Realists and Magic Realists exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art.

His work is included in the permanent collections of the Whitney Museum, the Museum of Modern Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, The Albright Art Gallery in Buffalo, and the Wadsworth Athenĉum in Hartford.

Biography from Brock & Co.:
Considered one of the Magic Realists, John Atherton was one a group of artists who turned away from abstraction and sought inspiration from the masters of the Italian Renaissance.  This was classicism with a twist, as his perfectly rendered figures inhabit a surreal world fraught with emotional components.  Indeed, Magical Realism can be considered an off-shoot of surrealism, with the disconnect in the mood rather than in the distorted object itself.

Atherton had his first solo exhibition at the Julian Levy Gallery in New York in 1938, a gallery which was home to other avant garde artists including Joseph Cornell and Max Ernst.  He was included in the landmark exhibition "American Realists and Magic Realists" at the Museum of Modern Art in 1943, where he exhibited alongside George Tooker and Jared French.  In the catalogue, Atherton expressed his belief that "in the end the painting must be felt, not analyzed."

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