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Ninth Street Women: Lee Krasner, Elaine de Kooning, Grace Hartigan, Joan Mitchell, and Helen Frankenthaler: Five Painters and the Movement That Changed Modern Art

Ninth Street Women: Lee Krasner, Elaine de Kooning, Grace Hartigan, Joan Mitchell, and Helen Frankenthaler: Five Painters and the Movement That Changed Modern Art

by Mary Gabriel
Ninth Street Women: Lee Krasner, Elaine de Kooning, Grace Hartigan, Joan Mitchell, and Helen Frankenthaler: Five Painters and the Movement That Changed Modern Art

Ninth Street Women: Lee Krasner, Elaine de Kooning, Grace Hartigan, Joan Mitchell, and Helen Frankenthaler: Five Painters and the Movement That Changed Modern Art

by Mary Gabriel


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Five women revolutionize the modern art world in postwar America in this "gratifying, generous, and lush" true story from a National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize finalist (Jennifer Szalai, New York Times).

Set amid the most turbulent social and political period of modern times, Ninth Street Women is the impassioned, wild, sometimes tragic, always exhilarating chronicle of five women who dared to enter the male-dominated world of twentieth-century abstract painting — not as muses but as artists. From their cold-water lofts, where they worked, drank, fought, and loved, these pioneers burst open the door to the art world for themselves and countless others to come.

Gutsy and indomitable, Lee Krasner was a hell-raising leader among artists long before she became part of the modern art world's first celebrity couple by marrying Jackson Pollock. Elaine de Kooning, whose brilliant mind and peerless charm made her the emotional center of the New York School, used her work and words to build a bridge between the avant-garde and a public that scorned abstract art as a hoax. Grace Hartigan fearlessly abandoned life as a New Jersey housewife and mother to achieve stardom as one of the boldest painters of her generation. Joan Mitchell, whose notoriously tough exterior shielded a vulnerable artist within, escaped a privileged but emotionally damaging Chicago childhood to translate her fierce vision into magnificent canvases. And Helen Frankenthaler, the beautiful daughter of a prominent New York family, chose the difficult path of the creative life.

Her gamble paid off: At twenty-three she created a work so original it launched a new school of painting. These women changed American art and society, tearing up the prevailing social code and replacing it with a doctrine of liberation. In Ninth Street Women, acclaimed author Mary Gabriel tells a remarkable and inspiring story of the power of art and artists in shaping not just postwar America but the future.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780316226189
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Publication date: 09/25/2018
Pages: 944
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.30(h) x 2.10(d)

About the Author

Mary Gabriel is the author of Love and Capital: Karl and Jenny Marx and the Birth of a Revolution, which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, and the National Book Critics Circle Award, as well as of Ninth Street Women, Notorious Victoria: The Life of Victoria Woodhull, Uncensored, and The Art of Acquiring: A Portrait of Etta and Claribel Cone. She worked in Washington and London as a Reuters editor for nearly two decades and lives in Ireland.

Table of Contents

Introduction xi

Prologue: The Ninth Street Show, New York, May 1951 5

Part 1 1928-1948


1 Lena, Lenore, Lee 21

2 The Gathering Storm 35

3 The End of the Beginning 44


4 Marie Catherine Mary Ellen O'Brien Fried's Daughter 55

5 The Master and Elaine 66

Art in War

6 The Flight of the Artists 77

7 It Is War, Everywhere, Always 90

8 Chelsea 100

9 Intellectual Occupation 110

10 The High Beam 122

11 A Light That Blinds, I 136

12 A Light That Blinds, II 148

The Turning Point

13 It's 1919 Over Again! 165

14 Awakenings 173

15 Separate Together 182

16 Peintres Maudits 195

17 Lyrical Desperation 203

18 Death Visits the Kingdom of the Saints 217

19 The New Arcadia 226

Part 2 1948-1951


20 The Call of the Wild 241

21 The Acts of the Apostles, I 255

22 The Acts of the Apostles, II 262

23 Fame 271

24 The Flowering 284

25 Riot and Risk 296


26 The Deep End of Wonder 311

27 The Thrill of It 326

28 The Puppet Master 340


29 Painted Poems 357

30 Mexico to Manhattan via Paris and Prague 371

31 Waifs and Minstrels 387

Part 3 1951-1955

Oh, to Leave a Trace

32 Coming Out 405

33 The Perils of Discovery 414

34 Said the Poet to the Painter 422

35 Neither by Design nor Definition 439

Discoveries of Heart and Hand

36 Swimming against a Riptide 457

37 At the Threshold 468

38 Figures and Speech 480

39 Refuge 493

40 A Change of Art 505

41 Life or Art 518

42 The Red House 530

Five Women

43 The Grand Girls, I 547

44 The Grand Girls, II 560

45 The Grand Girls, III 576

Part 4 1956-1959

The Rise and the Unraveling

46 Embarkation Point 593

47 Without Him 608

48 The Gold Rush 620

49 A Woman's Decision 635

50 Sputnik, Beatnik, and Pop 650

51 Bridal Lace and Widow's Weeds 661

52 Five Paths… 676

53 …Forward 687

Epilogue 701

Acknowledgments 717

Copyright and Permissions Acknowledgments 723

Notes 727

Bibliography 866

Index 892

What People are Saying About This

Director of Acquavella Galleries and author of The Value of Art and Seeing Slowly—Looking at Modern Art - Michael Findlay

“Reading this was sheer delight. Well beyond biography, art history and gender studies, Ninth Street Women enthralled me with the profound inventions and reckless passions of a lost New York art world. Mary Gabriel has forever replaced the clichéd and cobwebbed tropes about the heyday of abstract expressionism with a richly detailed epic starring not only five heroic female painters—Lee, Elaine, Grace, Joan and Helen—but a supporting cast that defines the entire existential and Beat era, from Frank O’Hara to Billie Holliday to Samuel Beckett. Her vision of Lee Krasner jazz dancing with Piet Mondrian alone is worth the price of the book. With palpable empathy for the flawed brilliance of her five stars, their jealous foes and long-suffering enablers, Gabriel conjures the high risk paths they chose, what making great art cost their lives, and what they lost and won in the end. I was transported from the soulless pomp of today's art "market" to those spirited days (and very long nights) when artists, dealers, curators and collectors were passionate about the art—not just money.”

author of How to See: Looking, Talking, and Thinking about Art - David Salle

“Mary Gabriel has written a fascinating, meticulously researched account of five painters who broke through the gender barriers in the art world of the 1950s. No matter how much we know about this foundational period in American art, there is still more to learn, and Gabriel is deft at teasing out the behind the scenes drama in these women’s lives and careers. Essential reading for any student of the period, and of the New York School generally.”

author of Berenice Abbott: A Life in Photography - Julia Van Haaften

“Gabriel has produced a sweeping panorama of American art history in the decades around World War II—specifically Abstract Expressionism and the rise of US art world dominance internationally. Mining hundreds of rare and original sources, notably memoirs, unpublished interviews, and other meticulously referenced sources, she highlights and synthesizes the singular but coinciding stories—the lives and work—of five signal New York School women painters into one highly readable narrative of interconnections, influences and personal histories that ultimately produced today’s roaring art market. Gabriel has provided a major contribution to the literature of 20th century cultural and social history that will remain a resource for decades to come.”

author of Broad Strokes: 15 Women Who Made Art and Made History (in That Order) - Bridget Quinn

“I wasn’t even finished with Mary Gabriel’s Ninth Street Women before insisting others need to read it. Gabriel’s book tells the forgotten story everyone should know. A heroic undertaking as sprawling and inspired as the canvases it describes, here at long last is the full chronicle of Abstract Expressionism. That is, the stories of five remarkable women artists who created the first thoroughly American art movement alongside the men who would be famous first. A necessary, urgent history of art, Ninth Street Women is a rollicking good read to boot.”

author of Joan Mitchell: Lady Painter - Patricia Albers

“Mary Gabriel’s masterful collective biography turns standard accounts of Abstract Expressionism inside out. Mixing critical insight with juicy storytelling, she brings five brilliant female painters to the fore of the art revolution that cut a wide swath in postwar America. Brava to Ninth Street Women!”

author of Flannery: A Life of Flannery O’Connor and Rumi’s Secret: The Life of the Sufi Poet of Love - Brad Gooch

“A knowing chronicle of the high-energy New York art world of the fifties and sixties, Ninth Street Women profoundly reframes our understanding. At last we see such once sidelined artists as Joan Mitchell and Elaine de Kooning in depth, and the accumulating view of both the telling gossip of their lives and the brave authenticity of their work is thrilling. Mary Gabriel restores the humanist ambition at the core of all the New York painters of this era, whether male or female--the boldness of their risky lives and the seriousness of their noble enterprise. I loved every page of this necessary book.”

author of Al Capone: His Life, Legacy, and Legend; Jung: A Biography; and Samuel Beckett: A Biography - Deirdre Bair

“An utterly enthralling book. Mary Gabriel tells a calm and objective story that nevertheless arouses so many emotions—in this reader at any rate—as she made me share every turbulent moment of these remarkable women’s lives. The book is a magisterial reference (her scholarship is extraordinary), one that will be the definitive text for years to come. It is also the most devastatingly accurate portrayal of five women who had the temerity to call themselves artists in the male-dominated 20th century. I can’t remember the last time I read such a gripping and enthralling book, one that had me so emotionally involved that I cursed the art world that tried to marginalize them and cheered the guts, grit, and sheer genius that kept them working.”

author of Ernest Hemingway: A Biography and Mistress of Modernism: The Life of Peggy Guggenheim - Mary Dearborn

“Ninth Street Women is cultural history in the best sense. Gabriel brilliantly shows how the women of Abstract Expressionism carved out paths for themselves in an often hostile community, fashioning careers and producing exciting work fully as important as that of their male peers—men whom they befriended, married, bedded, or disdained. Each of these women’s lives is vividly brought to life, and Ninth Street Women is a colorful narrative as compelling as a novel.”

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