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Will Barnet

American, 1911 - 2012

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Painter and printmaker Will Barnet decided early to be an artist. As a boy in Beverly, Massachusetts, where he was born, he spent hours sketching and poring over art books at the local library. The family cellar became his first studio. After studying at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Barnet left for the Art Students League in New York in 1930 and concentrated on lithography. He taught and produced art in New York for more than sixty years, spending summers in Maine from the mid-1950s.

Barnet's works focus primarily on the human figure. The family, especially his own, has been an enduring subject for him. Yet his images are not descriptions of individuals but careful arrangements of forms that express moods and feelings. Barnet balances shapes to create strong, interlocking compositions, as is evident in his many prints.

To arrive at the arrangement that best conveys the mood he desires, Barnet has made many preparatory drawings. The drawing No. 1 Idea for "Waiting" was created in the 1970s, when Barnet began a series of paintings of women waiting and looking out to the distance. Some scholars have related these images to Barnet's childhood in Beverly, once a whaling town, where sea captains' wives watched the horizon for signs of their husbands' return. Barnet's women belong to no particular place or time but seem to stand for the solitude and strength of the human soul as it is tested by life.

[This is an excerpt from the interactive companion program to the videodisc American Art from the National Gallery of Art. Produced by the Department of Education Resources, this teaching resource is one of the Gallery's free-loan educational programs.]

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