The Gallow Ball

Grace Hartigan (American, 1922-2008)
Oil and newspaper on canvas, 1950
Gilbreath-McLorn Museum Fund (2002.27)
Height: 95.7 cm Width: 128 cm
Additional images may be viewed in Argus

Guiding Questions
What can you tell about how Grace Hartigan painted this painting? What do you think her arms and legs were doing as she painted The Gallow Ball

What do you think this painting might be about? What kind of energy do you think Grace Hartigan was trying to show?

How would you describe the colors in this painting?

About the Painting
This is an abstract painting by Grace Hartigan called The Gallow Ball. She painted in a style called Abstract Expressionism. When you look at this painting, rather than seeing people, objects, or scenery from real life, you can see how the artist worked. Each stroke of paint shows the viewer just how the artist applied it. Abstract Expressionist artists use bold brushstrokes, sometimes even pouring the paint right onto the canvas or incorporating other materials into their paintings, like part of a newspaper you can see in The Gallow Ball. Abstract Expressionist artists use line, shape, and color to show movement and energy in their paintings. 

About the Artist
Grace Hartigan was born in Newark, New Jersey. She went to school to become a mechanical engineer, but started painting after she married and moved to California. The Gallow Ball is one of her earliest works. She later moved back to New York and became friends with other important Abstract Expressionist painters like Jackson Pollock and Willem DeKooning. In the 1950s, LIFE magazine wrote that she was the most celebrated woman painter in America. Her paintings were featured in important exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art and can be found in museums all over the world.

This painting was painted within a year of when Thomas Hart Benton painted Portrait of a Musician. What similarities or differences do you see?

Grace Hartigan painted in the Abstract Expressionist style. Frederic Karoly’s stain painting, Concerto Gross Fugue by Bloch—Interpretation, 1959, is painted in the Post-Painterly Abstraction technique, which was a non-gestural response to Abstract Expressionism. What similarities or differences do you see? Why might an artist choose to paint in one style or the other? Which would you choose?

Concerto Grosso Fugue by Bloch–Interpretation

Frederic Karoly (Hungarian, 1898–1987)
Concerto Grosso Fugue by Bloch–Interpretation
Acrylic on canvas, 1959
Gift of Mr. Morton D. May (65.332)

Grace Hartigan also said she was inspired by the Spanish Baroque painter, Diego Velasquez. You can see one of his paintings here. Can you see any similarities between these two paintings? 

An Old Woman Cooking Eggs

Diego Velazquez (Spanish, 1599-1660)
An Old Woman Cooking Eggs, ca. 1618
Oil on canvas
Scottish National Gallery

Additional resources
An interview with Grace Hartigan from the Smithsonian American Art Museum:

More paintings by Grace Hartigan at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA):

The Gallow Ball
An Old Woman Cooking Eggs
Concerto Grosso Fugue by Bloch–Interpretation

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