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