Simeon Braguin (1907-1997)
Simeon Braguin enjoyed a long and successful career as a fashion illustrator and art director. He was also a painter of lyrical abstractions that link him with the New York School, the group of innovative painters who created Abstract Expressionism during the 1940s and 50s.
Braguin was born in Kharköv, in the Ukraine, on January 12th 1907, the son of Anna and Yaköv Braguin. With the outbreak of the Russian Revolution in 1917, the family came to the United States and settled in New York, where Yaköv worked as a merchant. Braguin went on to take art classes at Columbia University and at the Art Students League, studying under the painter Boardman Robinson, among others. It was around this time that he became friendly with the Ashcan School painter William Glackens, who likely helped Braguin organize the first solo exhibition of his paintings, held at the Marie Harriman Gallery in Manhattan in 1931.
During the early 1930s, Braguin supported himself by working as an illustrator, publishing his pen and ink drawings in the Delineator. By 1932, he had joined the staff of Vogue magazine, which did much to enhance his profile in the fashion community. He also did illustration work for other leading magazines, such as Saturday Evening Post and Mademoiselle, and produced advertisements for chic Manhattan-based retailers such as Saks, Bergdorf Goodman and Bonwit Teller. Braguin also expanded his creative activity to include fabric and furniture design as well as objets de boudoir for women. After being appointed art director for Vogue, he worked closely with such celebrated photographers as Edward Steichen and Cecil Beaton. Braguin’s fashion illustrations--inspired by artists such as Paul Klee, Jean Cocteau and Henri Matisse--were both whimsical and sophisticated, distinguished by an elegant yet playful use of line.
With the advent of World War II, the multi-lingual Braguin served in Europe with the Office of Strategic Services, participating in dangerous missions in Italy, Austria and Yugoslavia. Returning to New York, he reconnected with world of fashion, resuming his work at Vogue and later becoming the art director at B. Altman’s. During the early 1950s, he and his second wife--Janet Chatfield Taylor, a fashion editor--were well-known figures on the local art scene, fraternizing with a coterie of illustrators and painters that included Saul Steinberg and Fairfield Porter. Braguin also befriended and passed on illustration assignments to the young Andy Warhol, who would go on to become a major figure in Pop Art.
After acquiring a summer house in Essex, Connecticut in the late 1960s, Braguin resumed painting on a regular basis, going on to evolve a highly poetic brand of abstraction. On the occasion of a solo exhibition of his work at the Poindexter Gallery in New York in 1971, a critic for Arts Magazine described his paintings as “powerful in their understatement and wonderful in their evocations.” This was followed by a second show in 1975, at which time Braguin exhibited his Essex Harbor Series, inspired by his love of sailing. However, when the Poindexter Gallery closed soon afterwards, Braguin did not seek a new dealer; rather, he worked in relative isolation for many years, producing geometric abstractions characterized by pastel colors and a delicate yet lively linearity. A one-man show at the Yale University Art Gallery in 1991 served to re-introduce the work of this talented artist to contemporary audiences. His oeuvre--which includes sculpture as well as paintings--has also been featured in exhibitions at the Lyman Allyn Art Museum, New London, Connecticut, the Lyme Art Academy, Old Lyme, Connecticut and the Twentieth Century Foundation Museum, New York City.
An active member of the Essex community, Braguin was an avid sailor; when he wasn’t painting, he could be found racing his Blue Jay at the Pettipaugh Yacht Club. He was also a founder of Tri-Town Youth Services and the North Main Street Association.
In 1994, Braguin suffered a stroke that curtailed his artistic activity. He passed away three years later--on November 9th 1997--at the age of ninety, leaving the bulk of his estate to Yale University to establish the Janet and Simeon Braguin Fund for American Art. Braguin is represented in numerous public collections, including the Kresge Art Museum, East Lansing, Michigan; Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Connecticut; the Lyman Allyn Art Museum; and the Twentieth Century Foundation Museum.
Spanierman Gallery, New York
Submitted by Dr. Casey J. Hayes