American artist Will Barnet is known for his intimate, foreshortened views of women with cats, but his oeuvre, spanning nearly a century, reveals a diverse and multifaceted artist who transcended stylistic trends. Coming to auction for the first time are works from Barnet’s estate, with examples from each of his major stylistic periods, in our November 2 sale of Old Master Through Modern Prints.
The selection of prints is especially notable for its wealth of rare examples of Barnet’s early social realist work, produced for the graphic arts division of the WPA, Federal Art Project in New York, producing lithographs and etchings of factory workers, farm laborers and urban dwellers. His street views of New York’s working poor reflect the popular Ashcan School style epitomized in the work of George Bellows and John Sloan.
Barnet began to experiment with abstraction in the 1940s. He never broached the barrier into full-on abstraction, always leaving some hint of figuration in the composition. During an October 26 talk at Swann Galleries, the artist’s daughter Ona Barnet recalled that her father would take her through art museums why every painting is abstract.
Lot 376: Will Barnet, Strange Bird, lithograph, 1947. Estimate $1,200 to $1,800.
Barnet’s abstraction became more expressive through the 1950s, incorporating gestural forms into his works. Images like Play, 1952, show his attention turning more toward the domestic scenes and home life for which he would become known.
Lot 378: Will Barnet, Play, color lithograph, 1952. Estimate $1,200 to $1,800.
By the mid-1960s, Barnet’s style had matured. His works were populated with women at rest or playing with domestic animals. Evident are the influences of Renaissance painting, traditional Japanese color woodcuts and American Pop Art. Barnet continued to operate and experiment in this style for the next 50 years.