In Memoriam: Will Barnet

Will Barnet, former League student, instructor emeritus, and longtime friend of the League passed away November 12, 2012 at the age of 101.

The family has asked that donations in Mr. Barnet's name be made to the League's Will Barnet Printmaking Fund.  To donate online, please use this link.

To learn more about Mr. Barnet and view a catalog of the League's 2010 Exhibition, Will Barnet and the Art Students League, please see below.

New York Times Obituary

Portland Press Herald Obituary

In February 2012, Mr. Barnet was awarded the National Arts Medal by President Obama at the White House. Watch  the video.

New York Times feature article on Will Barnet and the Art Students League "Painting at 99, With No Compromises" The New York Times—October 27, 2010. 

Will Barnet and the Art Students League
October 5–31, 2010
The Phyllis Harriman Mason Gallery

In honor of Will Barnet’s centennial year, The Art Students League, for the first time, brought together highlights of Mr. Barnet’s career with works by dozens of his instructors, colleagues, and students, including George L.K. Morris, Steve Wheeler, Louise Bourgeois, and James Rosenquist.


The exhibition was held at the League’s Phyllis Harriman Mason Gallery at 215 West 57th Street in Manhattan October 5–31.

Download the Exhibition Catalogue

Will Barnet and The Art Students League will examine Mr. Barnet’s 50-year affiliation with the school and his prominent place in the history of twentieth-century American art. Viewers seeing Mr. Barnet’s work alongside that of his fellow League artists will come to appreciate the persistent course of modernism at the League. The exhibition draws from museum, gallery, and private collections. Generous supporters of the show include The Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation, Meryl Greenfield, The International Fine Print Dealers Association Foundation, and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs. (Image right: Singular Image, 1964, color woodcut on Japanese paper,  35 5/8 * 22 in.  Collection of Will and Elena Barnet. © Will Barnet/Licensed by VAGA, New York NY; Alexandre Gallery, New York, NY)

14 Seminal Barnet Works
The survey included 14 seminal works representing key moments in Mr. Barnet’s career during his affiliation with the League and works by nearly 50 colleagues. A 1931 lithograph, Cafeteria Scene, shows his engagement with social realism as a 19-year-old scholarship student from Boston. Major paintings Children Drawing (1946) and Soft Boiled Eggs (1946) use condensed, simplified forms, and shallow space and they focus on his family as subject. This approach evolved into what is now known as the Indian Space movement, represented in the exhibit by the oil painting Cat Chasing Bird (1947) and a Singular Image (1964). Fully abstract, large-scale paintings such as the exhibition’s Compression–Spokane (1967) gave way in the next decade to a return to the figure in portraits of family members and acquaintances, as in Mother and Child (Elena and Ona) (1961) and Portrait, Djorje Milicevic (1967). 

Works by 50 League Colleagues
Prints and paintings by Barnet’s teachers, students and colleagues were presented chronologically. His instructors at the League are represented by Stuart Davis’ silkscreen print, Ivy League, and Charles Locke’s 1935 lithograph of a couple in a restaurant. A cubist still-life by Barnet’s fellow student and friend Burgoyne Diller will be on view. As the professional printer at the League beginning in 1935, Barnet printed for League students as well as outside artists who sought him out for his acknowledged skills as a lithographic printer. The exhibition will feature prints by Harry Sternberg, Jose Clemente Orozco, and Louise Bourgeois. Works by friends and fellow League instructors include Steve Wheeler’s The Halogens II, Cameron Booth’s The Shining Ones, and Raphael Soyer’s Nude in Interior. Among works by prominent students from Mr. Barnet’s four-decade teaching career at the League will be Bob Blackburn’s Negro Mother (c. 1944), Howard Daum’s Raven (1949), Paul Jenkins’ Phenomena After the Return (2009), and Knox Martin’s Woman with Wonderbread Breast (1980); Gregory Masurovsky, Henry Pearson, and Peter Busa will also be represented.

About Will Barnet
Acclaimed painter and printmaker Will Barnet was born in Beverly, Mass. in 1911 to immigrant parents.  His father steered the family to “immediately being American.” As a young boy, Mr. Barnet learned a love of art at the public library and he decided he wanted to be “a painter—an American painter.” (image right: Mr. Barnet with League students in the late 1940s.)

Mr. Barnet studied at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts School before earning a scholarship to The Art Students League of New York and beginning his 50-year affiliation with the school at the age of 19. He studied painting with Stuart Davis and printmaking with Harry Wickey and Charles Locke. He taught graphic arts and composition at the League from 1941 to 1954 and painting from 1953 through 1979. From 1935 through 1941, Mr. Barnet was the League’s professional printer, producing print for Louise Bourgeois, José Clemente Orozco, and Louise  Lozowick.

Mr. Barnet’s early works during the Depression Era were realistic depictions on the social conditions of the times, a “response to poverty and destitution,” according to biographer Robert Doty. After marrying and becoming a father, Mr. Barnet’s work began to feature images of family life, which would remain a prominent theme throughout his life. Moving away from traditional forms by the mid-1940s, Mr. Barnet produced powerful, thoroughly abstract paintings, large-scale responses to geographic locales and personal experiences. Returning to figurative painting in the 1960s, he employed a “hard-edge,” or “clear-edge,” style to produce elegant images of family and allegorical pieces connecting the past to the present.

Over the decades, Barnet witnessed and participated in some of the major movements of twentieth-century American art, from the social realism of the early 1930s to the abstraction of the 1960s. During his half-century at the League (1931-1980), his fellow students included Burgoyne Diller and Jackson Pollock, who were enrolled in classes taught by Hans Hofmann, Thomas Hart Benton and others. In its galleries, he met fellow artists such as Peter Busa and Steve Wheeler, who would forge the “Indian Space” movement with him in the 1940s. As an instructor, Mr. Barnet joined a teaching staff that included John Sloan, Raphael Soyer, Harry Sternberg, Vaclav Vytlacil, and later Cameron Booth, George L.K. Morris, and Yasuo Kuniyoshi.  Over time, his own students achieved successful careers: Bob Blackburn, William Crovello, Knox Martin, James Rosenquist, and Cy Twombly, among many others.

Mr. Barnet has also taught at Yale, Cooper Union, and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. His work is in every major public collection in the United States, including the National Gallery of Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. His awards include the National Academy of Design’s first Artist's Lifetime Achievement Award Medal, the Philadelphia Academy of Fine Art’s Lippincott Prize, and the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters’ Childe Hassam Prize.

Of his work Mr. Barnet has said, “All artists must have something to say. My dedication has always been to humanity. To express in my art the fragility of life. To record the events that take place in your life and the lives of those around you. In this way there is a furtherance of that person into future generations. Most people do this through their children and grandchildren, but an artist does it through his work.”

Related Links

Meet Will Barnet, video from Smithsonian American Art Museum

Will Barnet at the Alexandre Gallery

Biography of Mr. Barnet

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