Sunday, September 8, 2013

Tait, Agnes

Skating in Central Park
oil on canvas
33 7/8 x 48 1/8 in.
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC, USA

Tait had long wanted to make a large, festive painting of winter revelers in Central Park, but without a patron she could not take on this project. When the Public Works of Art Project gave her support in the winter of 1933-1934, she had her opportunity. As skaters and sledders flocked to the frozen lake and snowy slopes of Central Park, Tait joined them to sketch the winter fun. Then she retreated to her studio to make her painting. She showed the park in late afternoon as the Manhattan sky began to blush and the street lamps to glow, but skating and sledding were still in full swing. Once she had the landscape painted, Tait added figures in groups to create a colorful pattern against the snow and ice. The dark branches of the bare trees make a more subtle design against the white snow and mist and the golden sky. Around the ends of tree branches and in patches along the snowbanks, she painted areas of gray into which she drew snow-covered twigs and grasses by scraping away the gray paint with the end of her paintbrush. (Smithsonian Institution)

Agnes Tait (1894 - 1981) was born in New York City. She enrolled at the National Academy of Design in 1908 and took a life drawing class. She finished her training at the academy in 1916. In 1927 she traveled to Paris and studied at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, where she learned lithography. The following year she returned to New York, where she had her first exhibition. She traveled to Europe a second time in the early 1930s and returned via Haiti and Jamaica, which fostered an interest in tropical scenes.

In early 1934 she was employed by the Public Works of Art Project, for which she executed what is considered her most famous work, Skating in Central Park. Throughout the 1930s she worked on small lithographic editions and mural work. In 1941 she moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico. She continued to travel extensively in Mexico, France, Spain, Ireland, and Italy and worked on portrait commissions, book illustrations, mural commissions, and her own paintings and lithographs. In the late 1960s and 1970s she limited her output to smaller works depicting mostly cats and flowers. She died in Santa Fe, New Mexico.