Surrealism, Jazz and Cats

Gertrude Abercrombie-1957
Gertrude Abercrombie-Untitled 1957

Dubbed ‘Queen of Chicago’  by her intimates, Gertrude Abercombie was a mid 20th Century bohemian, saloniste, jazz devotee and Surrealist painter. The weekly salons she held with her second husband, the music critic Frank Sandford, in a large house in Hyde Park neighbourhood of Chicago, was frequented by such jazz luminaries as Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Sarah Vaughan and Dizzie Gillespie, who was a particularly close friend.

The improvisational techniques of be-bop certainly seemed to have influenced her paintings, which feature a small number of elements and motifs repeated throughout her career in an unusual and innovative manner. Cats, snail shells, owls, doors, leafless trees and a solitary female figure, always a hypercritical self portrait, frequently recur against a somber night sky barely lit by the distant moon. The mood is usually mysterious and elusive with occasionally a  hint of Southern Gothic, however Design for Death, which apparently was Charlie Parker’s favourite painting is quietly chilling in its representation of a staging for a lynching.

When asked why she painted in the Surrealist manner, Abercrombie stated, “Surrealism is meant for me because I am a pretty realistic person but don’t like all I see.”

Below are a selection of artworks from throughout Abercrombie’s career, hopefully some people will like her re-arrangements of reality as much as I do.

Design for Death-Gertrude Abercrombie 1946
Design for Death-Gertrude Abercrombie 1946
Reverie-Gertrude Abercrombie 1947
Reverie-Gertrude Abercrombie 1947
The Door and the Rock-Gertrude Abercrombie 1971
the Door and the Rock-Gertrude Abercrombie 1971
Compote and Grape-Gertrude Abercrombie 1941
Compote and Grape-Gertrude Abercrombie 1941
Wall and Giraffe-Gertrude Abercrombie 1951
Wall and Giraffe-Gertrude Abercrombie 1951
Levitation-Gerturde Abercrombie-1953
Levitation-Gerturde Abercrombie-1953
The Ivory Tower-Gertrude Abercrombie-1945
The Ivory Tower-Gertrude Abercrombie-1945
The Owl in the Bathroom-Gertrude Abercrombie 1964
The Owl in the Bathroom-Gertrude Abercrombie 1964
For Once In My Life-Gertrude Abercrombie 1969
For Once In My Life-Gertrude Abercrombie 1969
Shadows-Gertrude Abercrombie
Shadows-Gertrude Abercrombie
Three Cats-Gertrude Abercrombie 1956
Three Cats-Gertrude Abercrombie 1956

28 thoughts on “Surrealism, Jazz and Cats

  1. Such an amazing woman. Her paintings are lovely, I too adore the cats, most of all I admire her reaction to the political climate of that era. A lover of jazz As well, I love your article and Abercrombie’s art and fortitude.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you. The paintings are something special, she limits the amount of elements but they are frequently surprising. The cats are wonderful and she seems to have been a brave and bold woman. There are worst titles to have than Queen of Chicago.

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  2. These are wonderful. Such a combination of whimsical and mysterious/ominous. I love the doors, the Compote and Grape (the perspective) and For Once In My Life – really who doesn’t feel like a snail some days? Excellent selection of artwork, love the post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Lily, a very recent find but I am delighted by her work, which forms a consistent whole while having individual works in different registers. She did a fair number of works so you may see more of her here in the future.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Her art has a very broad range from the whimsical to the dark scene of a lynching . it’s not surprising that she was referred to as the Queen of Chicago by her rather impressive entourage. Do give us more on this fascinating lady, Mr. Cake.

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  4. First time that I have looked at this artist work,, loved the painting of the 3 cats, would like to have a print, any idea if they are available and if so where I be able to purchase?

    Thank you Mr Cake.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. First time that I have looked at this artist work, loved the painting of the 3 cats, would like to have a print any idea if they are available and is so where would I be able to purchase?

      Thank you Mr Cake

      Like

  5. I was not familiar with this artist but I’m very pleased to be introduced! I’ve never seen more perfect expressions on cats. I’m digging her color palette and love that she was inspired by jazz.

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    1. She is relatively new to me as well and I make a point of knowing my surrealist artists. A perfect combination in my mind, surrealism, jazz and cats. Her nighttime take on Christina’s World is excellent as well.

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      1. I took an art history course back in time but it only covered art before the 20th century. I’m lucky to live in a city rich in jazz history, not to mention where Charlie Parker was born and raised.

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      2. My main focus would be Surrealism with side detours into Symbolism/Decadence and Romanticism, though I do have a fondness for the old masters as well, particularly Da Vinci, Durer and Goya. I am a late convert to jazz, but I am finding out more all the time.

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  6. What I’m most attracted to at my city’s big art museum is Caravaggio’s “St. John the Baptist in the Wilderness,” and all the Hieronymus Bosch pieces. I wouldn’t say I’m super knowledgeable about jazz but I have a favorite jazz lounge I make a point to visit on a regular basis.

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