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George Ault

 (1891 - 1948)
George Copeland Ault was active/lived in New York, Ohio / England.  George Ault is known for precisionist architectural views and still-life painting.

George Ault

Biography from the Archives of askART

A precisionist and surrealist painter, especially noted for nocturnes, George Ault had the ability to depict lonely, everyday beauty of the world in a moment of absolute stillness.  He also experimented with more traditional styles of realism, but was relatively untouched by modernist abstraction.  His paintings were based on what he saw around him, many of them architectural subjects, and rendered in a quietly controlled manner.

He was born in Cleveland, Ohio, and in 1899 moved to London with his family and attended the Slade School and St. John's Wood Art School.  He traveled extensively on the Continent, which exposed him to avant-garde art movements.  In 1911, he returned to the United States, and by 1937 was settled in Woodstock, New York where he freely explored his passion for the play of light at a favorite spot called Russell's Corners.  He did numerous scenes that are almost entirely black, illuminated by a light high on an electrical pole.

Although his childhood had been a happy one, from his mid 20s, he experienced mounting tragedy.  His family lost their fortune; his mother died in a mental hospital; all three of his brothers committed suicide; he had a losing battle with alcoholism; and he lost his eyesight.  He and his wife lived a reclusive, impoverished existence in Woodstock, without electricity or plumbing and his studio was exceedingly spartan.  His own death in 1948 appeared to be suicide.

In his work he explored a variety of modern styles, but about 1920 settled on architectural, urban themes rendered carefully and geometrically, with a great sense of design and careful paint application.  The paintings had a romantic, poetic quality, and, perhaps reflecting his own personal sadnesses, often depicted isolated objects in spare settings as well as many nocturnes.

By 1946, he turned to primarily abstract subjects, a world of random shapes and imaginary landscapes. He was a great admirer of Giorgio de Chirico, Italian surrealist, and Ault's later work showed more and more of this influence.

Matthew Baigell, Dictionary of American Art, p. 20

Biography from the Archives of askART

The following information was submitted by Lisa Wallerstein, a relative of the artist:

Uncle George was often so poor that he had to cut his paints with alcohol to make them last, pouring the same substance into his art that he did into his body.  It seems hauntingly appropriate that he died
walking over a bridge that wasn't there, the way people in the movies sometimes step into paintings: The bridge on the way home had been washed away in a blizzard while he was in town at his favorite tavern, and at closing time he strode home through the night, only to vanish into his favorite Woodstock scenery.  Perhaps the idea of diluting himself into Nature's palette would have appealed to him.

Biography from The Caldwell Gallery
This biography is provided by The Caldwell Gallery.

A descendant of French Huguenots and ancestors of the American Revolution, George Copeland Ault was born in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1891. When he was eight, Ault moved with his family moved to London, England, where his father opened a printing company and thus introduced American printing techniques and American inks to Britain.

Interested in art, Ault undertook a comprehensive study of drawing and painting at a variety of London's creative institutions, including University College, the Slade School, London University, and St. John's Wood Art School. He supplemented this formal training with visits to art museums in London and Paris where he could copy the work of recognized masters. In 1911, at the age of twenty, Ault returned to the States. He moved around New York and New Jersey until 1937, when he finally settled in the rural community of Woodstock, New York. He remained there until his accidental death by drowning in 1948.

Throughout his life, Ault devoted himself to artistic production in oil, watercolor, and drawing. Preferring familiar subjects from the local landscape, Ault's work firmly roots itself in the American scene. However, his Cubist-Realist technique of portraying the natural world according to the underlying geometry of its forms shows an influence of European Modernism.

Ault's early pictures were first exhibited at St. John's Wood Art School in 1908. The first American showing of his mature work occurred in New York in 1920, where the artist's individual approach earned positive attention. This trend continued, and the following year, he was honored by the Society of Independent Artists, who selected his work "A New York Skyline" for their show entitled "Our Choice of Independents." In his review of the exhibition, critic C. Lewis Hind commented that participating artists "promised that there was a future of American art away from the stereotype of the moribund academic productions of the day."1

"Provincetown Waterfront" depicts familiar elements from Ault's life in the summer community of Massachusetts. But rather than merely replicating an observation of houses along the shore, this watercolor reduces the scene to its primary elements, presenting only "the simple forms of which it was composed [and] leaving out all unessential detail."2


1 Quoted in a two-page typed information sheet given to the Frick Library by Milch Gallery on November 30, 1967, p. 1.
2 George C. Ault, quoted in a one-page information sheet, A Retrospective Exhibition: George C. Ault, Charlotte, N.C., The Mint Museum of Art, October 15 - November 15, 1950.

Biography from The Columbus Museum of Art, Georgia
George Copeland Ault was born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1891 and at age eight, moved  to London, England where his family opened a printing shop and introduced American inks and printing techniques to London.  It is during this time that Ault received training at the Slade School of Art and St. John's Wood School of Art before returning to America in 1911.

Although Ault is often grouped with the Precisionist movement, he did not follow in their pattern of idealizing modern life.  Instead, Ault's art is a combination of Cubism, Surrealism, and American folk art that accurately portrays the American scene.  In addition, his style shows an influence of European Modernism because of the underlying geometry.

The 1920s were an emotionally turbulent time in the life of Ault: his parents' deaths and suicides of three of his brothers contributed to his reclusive behavior.  In 1937, Ault moved to Woodstock, New York hoping to make a new start.  This move failed and he became even more depressed, leading to his suicide in 1948.

Submitted by Staff, Columbus Museum

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About  George Ault

Born:  1891 - Cleveland, Ohio
Died:   1948 - Woodstock, New York
Known for:  precisionist architectural views and still-life painting