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 Horace Pippin  (1888 - 1946)

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Lived/Active: Pennsylvania      Known for: naive townscape, genre and still-life painting

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BIOGRAPHY for Horace Pippin
1888 (West Chester, Pennsylvania)


Self portrait - Artist self-portrait
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Often Known For
naive townscape, genre and still-life painting

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Black American Artists
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
He was active first as a craftsman.  In World War I he had suffered a crippling gun shot wound to the arm.  He did not complete his first oil painting until 1930, and the years 1942-44 were the most successful.  As a Black American, he took an interest in historical figures he felt had impacted his life, and he painted both Abraham Lincoln and John Brown.  Pippin was born in West Chester, Pennsylvania and lived in New York State as a child.  He is considered a primitive painter because of his lack of modelling skills and perspective, but his subject matter was psychologically complex.  He worked out of a tiny, dark room in his home.
Horace Pippin was born in 1888 in West Chester, Pennsylvania.  Pippin was one of the last of this country's important folk artists.  He was the grandson of slaves.  He left school at fourteen, worked as a field hand in Goshen, New York and then enlisted in the Army. During World War I, a sniper wounded him in the right shoulder, partially paralyzing his arm.  After the war, he was able to perform only light labor; he was a junk dealer and delivered laundry that his wife took in.  He also began to paint, laboriously. He painted many genre scenes of black life: the war, the hearth, his favorite heroes, religious subjects, etc.  He painted still life, and portraits of whites as well as blacks.  He worked out of a tiny dark room in his home.

Pippin's primitivism is a miraculously childlike vision sustained and disciplined without being dulled by a long professional career as a painter.  It's the paradoxically sophisticated primitivism of an artist who retains his way of looking at the world out of conviction, rather than out of ignorance of mainstream conventions.  Pippin's vision - his dream, as he called it, so overrode any concern for formal pictorial niceties that he was undaunted by loss of technical control when the sniper hit him during World War I.  He returned to painting by simply placing the brush between his right fingers and pushing his arm around the canvas with his left hand. 

Sources include:
Mark Stevens in Newsweek, August 22, 1977
Master Paintings from the Phillips Collection

Written and submitted by Jean Ershler Schatz, artist and researcher from Laguna Woods, California.

Added note by genealogy researcher Dan Lindley:
Horace Pippin died in 1946, and is buried at Chestnut Grove Annex Cemetery in West Chester, Pennsylvania.

Biography from Galerie St. Etienne:
Pippin was born in West Chester, Pennsylvania to a hard-working, poor, yet enduring African-American family.  His earliest memories were of Goshen, New York, where he spent much of his childhood.  While attending the local elementary school for “colored” children, Pippin created his first drawings, which depicted Biblical scenes.  At fourteen he attempted his first portrait.

Pippin began working at a series of unskilled jobs to support his sick mother, who died in 1911.  He enlisted in the army in 1917 and was sent to France.  In the trenches he constantly wrote in his diary and made sketches.  In 1918 he returned home from the front, his right arm paralyzed by a sniper’s bullet.  In 1920 he moved back to West Chester, marrying a widow with a young son.  Some nine years later he returned to his artwork, creating a burnt wood panel by balancing a hot poker in his right hand against his knee and moving a piece of wood across the hot tip of the iron with his left hand. This method of scoring the wood eventually helped him to regain strength in the paralyzed arm, and he was able to begin painting again.

In 1937 Pippin’s first one-man show was held at the West Chester Community Center, an institution which provided cultural and social opportunities for local African Americans.  Only one year later, four of his paintings were included in the ground breaking folk art exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, “Masters of Popular Painting.”  The following year Robert Carlen of Philadelphia became his dealer, and introduced him to the renowned collector, Dr. Albert C. Barnes, who purchased several works.  In the 1940s Pippin’s work became more widely known, as many museums, including the San Francisco Museum of Art, the Pennsylvania Academy of Art, The Corcoran Gallery, The Newark Museum and the National Gallery of Art, exhibited his work.  Since Pippin’s death in 1946, museums and galleries have continued to exhibit and purchase his works.  Most recently, the Pennsylvania Academy of Art organized an exhibition that traveled to the Art Institute of Chicago, the Cincinnati Art Museum, the Baltimore Museum of Art, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

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