Artist Perle Fine in her studio, New York City, 1965.
Photograph by Maurice Berezov © A. E. Artworks.
Perle Fine, Theme #1, 1951
Oil on canvas
70 1/2 x 35 1/2 inches
Perle Fine, Cool Series, No. 80,
Impatient Spring, ca. 1961-1963
Oil on canvas, 86 x 68 inches
Perle Fine, Untitled, ca. 1952
Collage on canvas, 9-1/2 x 13 in.
Perle Fine was an independent-minded, highly talented artist who was committed to abstraction throughout a career that lasted fifty years. She began to exhibit her art in the 1940s and soon was at the center of the emerging Abstract Expressionist movement. With her reputation growing, Perle Fine began to receive recognition when she participated in exhibitions at Art of this Century Gallery and the Museum of Nonobjective Painting and had solo artist shows at the several galleries, including those of Nierendorf, Betty Parsons, and Tanager. Perle Fine was one of few women artists to become a member of The Club, the intellectual group at the center of the art world that was led by Franz Kline and Willem de Kooning, both of whom were among her friends. She was also close to Jackson Pollock and his wife Lee Krasner, Ad Reinhardt, Mark Rothko, and James Brooks. In 1954, Fine moved to Springs, East Hampton, where she worked with solitary concentration, while also taking part in the growing community of artists on Long Island’s East End.
Perle Fine was born in Boston in 1905, to parents who had recently emigrated from Russia. One of six children, she grew up in nearby Malden, Massachusetts. By 1920, before she had finished high school, she began to study art, enrolling in the School of Practical Art, Boston, where she took classes in illustration and graphic design; she paid for her tuition by working in the bursar’s office. At the end of the decade, she moved to New York, continuing her training at the Grand Central School of Art under Pruett Carter. In 1930, Perle Fine transferred to the Art Students League, choosing to study there under Kimon Nicolaides, who encouraged spontaneity and an academic approach to modeling the figure. At the time, Paul Cézanne was the artist whose work inspired her most. It was also in 1930 that she married Maurice Berezov, a fellow artist whom she had met at the Grand Central School of Art.
In 1933, Perle Fine chose to further her studies under Hans Hofmann, who had just moved his hugely popular Munich art school to New York. Among those at the school when Fine attended were Larry Rivers, Robert De Niro, and Lee Krasner, who became a lifelong friend. Fine also attended Hofmann’s summer school in Provincetown, where she and Berezov spent many summers. Quietly creating abstract works on her own while Regionalism and Social Realism prevailed, Fine seems to have only participated in one exhibition during the 1930s, a show held in August 1938 at the Municipal Art Galleries. After the war, when abstract art again gained prominence, she began to earn recognition, receiving a grant from the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation and showing at Peggy Guggenheim’s Art of this Century Gallery and the Museum of Nonobjective Painting (now, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York), which was under the directorship of Hilla Rebay.
In 1945, Perle Fine joined American Abstract Artists, a context in which she came to know many leading abstract artists of the day including Josef Albers, Fannie Hillsmith, Ibram Lassaw, I. Rice Pereira, and Ad Reinhardt—she had a particular admiration for Reinhardt, whose bravery
she found inspiring. In the same year, Fine’s first solo artist exhibition took place; it was held at the Willard Gallery on East 57th Street in February–March and was widely reviewed in the press. Within the year, Fine moved her affiliation across the street to the gallery of Karl Nierendorf, who had specialized in the Blaue Reiter group in Germany. Nierendorf provided Fine with a stipend and held shows of her art in 1946 and 1947.
In 1947, Fine was given an unusual assignment. She was asked by the collector Emily Hall Tremaine, who had acquired works by Fine, to make an exact copy of Piet Mondrian’s diamond-shaped Victory Boogie-Woogie, then in Tremaine’s collection (now in the collection of the Gemeentemuseum, The Hague) as well as to prepare a complete analysis of the painting, on which the artist had been working when he died three years earlier. Perle Fine, who had come to know Mondrian after he emigrated to America in 1940, felt a deep reverence for his achievement. She executed her copy under the same conditions in which Mondrian had painted his original, working in a pure white room and using brushes and paints identical to his. In 1944, Fine began to create etchings, working with Stanley William Hayter. Her etchings were first shown in a group exhibition held that year at Wittenborn & Co., New York.
After Nierendorf ’s sudden death due to a heart attack in 1947, Perle Fine began to be represented by Betty Parsons, whose gallery (opened in September of the year), had become the leading showplace in New York for the newest art of the day. It was in 1949 that Fine was invited by de Kooning to join The Club, becoming one of its few women members.
In 1954, Perle Fine and Berezov built a one-room studio house in the woods in Springs, East Hampton, an area where they had often spent time previously while visiting with Krasner and Pollock. Fine remained in Springs throughout the year, although she traveled into the city on occasion to
see art and to hang her works in exhibitions. In 1955, Fine became affiliated with Tanager Gallery, where she had solo shows through 1960.
In the late 1950s, Perle Fine made intricate use of collage in her paintings, interweaving jagged scraps of paper, newspaper cutouts and aluminum and gold foil across white fields. In about 1961, she destroyed a show’s worth of her work and created a new group of works that she called the Cool Series. In accord with the Color Field movement, these reductive, vibrant, geometric images were praised when they were shown at Graham Gallery in 1963 and 1964. In the mid-1960s, Fine created a series of painted wood reliefs in which the parts were fragmented yet formed a cohesive totality.
From 1962 until 1973, Perle Fine served as associate professor of art at Hofstra University, Hempstead, Long Island, where a ten-year retrospective was held in 1974 following her retirement from teaching. Begun about 1970, Fine’s Accordment series included drawings, gouaches, and oils in which she utilized Mondrian’s grid construction as a framework for overall shimmering surface effects.
Perle Fine exhibited her work extensively in solo and group shows during her lifetime. Following her death from pneumonia in 1988, she was featured in solo exhibitions at the Pollock-Krasner House and Study Center, East Hampton, New York (2005) and again at Hofstra in 2009.
Perle Fine’s work is represented in many important private and public collections, including Addison Gallery of American Art, Andover, Massachusetts; Arkansas Art Center, Little Rock; Ball State Museum of Art, Muncie, Indiana; Brandeis University, Waltham, Massachusetts; Brooklyn Museum, New York; Cheekwood Botanical Garden and Museum of Art, Nashville, Tennessee; Corcoran Gallery, Washington, D.C.; Guild Hall, East Hampton, New York; Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York; Hofstra University, Long Island, New York; Indianapolis Museum of Art; Indiana University Art Museum, Bloomington; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute, Utica, New York; National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; New York University Art Collection; Parrish Art Museum, Southampton, New York; Principia College, Saint Louis, Missouri; Provincetown Art Association and Museum, Massachusetts; Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey; Smith College Museum of Art, Northampton, Massachusetts; Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; University of California Art Museum, Berkeley; University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Weatherspoon Art Museum, University of North Carolina, Greensboro; and Worcester Art Museum, Massachusetts.