AMHERST, Mass. -- Thanks to the exceptional generosity of three families of donors, Amherst College has acquired a substantial collection of more than 300 artworks and letters by alumnus artist Jared French, Class of 1925. A selection of the recently-acquired drawings, photographs, and correspondence is featured in the Mead's exhibition, Art for All: Additions to the Collection from Antiquity to Today,
which opened on Friday, February 8, and remains on view through July 7, 2013.
Observes Mead Art Museum Director Elizabeth Barker, "This transformational acquisition has made Amherst College into an essential resource for the study French's art and life. Given the collection's remarkably diverse array of materials, many of which haven't previously been available to scholars, it promises to enlarge our understanding of French's work - and even to spur fresh examinations of it."
A generous gift of funds from the artist's grand-nephew, grand-niece, niece, and their spouses - Andrew J. Shilling, Class of 1989, and Kirsten N. Shilling; Jennifer S. Stein, Class of 1993, and Josh B. Stein; and A. Gary Shilling, Class of 1959, and Margaret B. Shilling - allowed the Mead Art Museum to purchase more than 250 of French's drawings, prints, and photographs. The works span the entire scope of French's career, ranging from figure studies executed at the Art Students League to preparatory sketches for his enigmatic paintings, PaJaMa photographs, and examples of his late, nonrepresentational drawings.
"It is really exciting to bring this fantastic collection to Amherst," noted Andrew Shilling. "Jerry's profile as an artist appears underdeveloped, perhaps due to his extensive residence in Rome and modest interest in building a commercial persona. The archive presents a huge opportunity for further research into his life and his art, and Amherst is the perfect place for this to happen. The stars truly aligned to make all this possible; the collection became available just at the time the Mead had redoubled its commitment to alumni artists."
In conjunction with the Mead's acquisition of the artworks, Archives and Special Collections of Amherst College's Frost Library acquired a related cache of more than 50 personal letters written to French by family members while the artist was student at Amherst in the 1920s and throughout his life after graduation. Mike Kelly, Head of Archives and Special Collections, notes, "Although we don't have Jared's responses, these letters - particularly the ones dating from his years at Amherst - are detailed enough to provide a glimpse into college life nearly 100 years ago." Inasmuch as they document both the history of the college and the activities of a distinguished alumnus, the letters further an important part of the collecting mission of the Amherst College Archives.
Born in New Jersey, Jared French (1905-1988) graduated from Amherst College in 1925, having studied literature, music, and art. French continued his art studies at the Art Students League in New York City, where he met Paul Cadmus, a fellow painter who would become his lover, friend, and collaborator. In the 1930s, French painted murals for the Works Progress Administration (WPA, a New Deal program) and began to exhibit his work. French is best known for his imaginative, sometimes bizarre, figurative egg-tempera paintings of the 1930s and '40s. This work, which many art historians align with the "Magical Realism" style, was deeply informed by psychologist Carl Jung's theories of the subconscious. In 1937, French married fellow artist Margaret Hoening. That same year, Cadmus and the Frenches formed the collective PaJaMa (an abbreviation of their first names, Paul, Jared, and Margaret), under which Jared produced photographs compositionally and conceptually related to his paintings of that period. Beginning in the 1960s, French gradually took up permanent residence in Rome, where he began a series of large-scale drawings of anthropomorphic inanimate objects, and where he remained until his death in 1988.