Ary Stillmans love for music inspired many
of his greatest paintings. As an acknowledgment of this association,
The Stillman-Lack Foundation and The University of Houston School
of Music have dedicated the paintings within this page as a
permanent part of the University's new music school, appropriately
named "The Ary Stillman Green Room", these paintings
will come to represent how beautiful music can indeed become
works of art on canvas.
A Life on Canvas, University of Houston, Moores
School of Music, 1997
||Ary and Music
||Paris 1919 - 1932
||New York City 1933 - 1945
||New York City 1945 - 1955
||Mexico - Houston 1957 - 1967
When the University of Houston held a small show
of Ary Stillman paintings in 1964, Alfred Neumann who was at
that time Dean of Arts and Sciences said to me, "Wouldn't
it be wonderful if Ary's work could find a home here at the
University?" I didn't think much about his remarks at the
time because Ary and I had come to Houston partly because of
family and partly because it was a way station to Mexico, a
setting Ary particularly loved. However, as the years rolled
on and Ary's health diminished, Houston took on a more important
role in our lives and in our planning for the future.
Thus, when David Tomatz, Director of the University
of Houston School of Music, asked to house a significant number
of Ary's paintings in the new music building's Green Room to
be known as the Ary Stillman Room, the response was affirmative
without any hesitation. Houston was now home. Ary had loved
music almost as much as painting, and our niece, violinist Fredell
Lack Eichhorn, was a devoted and leading participant in the
University's musical life.
Although the Ary Stillman Room does not house
the entire Stillman collection, it is currently the largest
retrospective of his work on public display and embodies some
of the finest examples of each period of his long and fruitful
life. And because many visitors to this room are being introduced
to Ary Stillman for the first time, this booklet draws on three
sources to introduce them.
One source is from critics who reviewed some
of the paintings when they first appeared in major exhibitions
in years past. A second source is from direct quotes of the
artist, which were published, in a small brochure by the Stillman-Lack
Foundation formed shortly after the artist's death. Finally,
there are excerpts from Reminiscences, a private printing on
Ary's life and observations, which he and I wrote individually
It is our hope that this introduction to the
artist will inspire the new viewer to learn more about the creative
and mystical world of Ary Stillman.
Frances Fribourg Stillman
Many places served as home for Ary Stillman during
his long and eventful lifetime.
There was the tiny village in White Russia where
as a youngster he fulfilled a vague longing by cutting out designs
from rough paper and filling them in with colorsa collage.
There was the midwestern town in the United States
(Sioux City, Iowa) where the immigrant lad toiled by day to
support himself, his mother, sister and brothers, and then by
night set up an easel and painted portraits and still-lifes.
There was Paris in the legendary '20s and '30s
where aflame with the beauty of his surroundings he produced
poetic and sensuously rich canvasses acclaimed by Paris critics.
There was New York City where he played a leading
role in the art scene of the '30s, '40s, and early '50s, with
a steady succession of one-man exhibitions and group showings.
Then, in the last decade of his life, there were
five years in Mexico and an equal number in Houston. Mexico
followed a period of declining health, an eye injury, the loss
of his longtime studio in New York, and a futile search for
a suitable setting in Paris.
He had spent a happy six months in Mexico in
1940perhaps it could work its magic on him again. And
indeed, the beauty and peace of Cuernavaca worked magic on him.
Gradually his health improved, and a whole new series of exotic
fantasies came forth "the culmination of his artistic career,"
many critics said.
But by 1962 ill health plagued Stillman to such
an extent that he felt impelled to seek the loving care of his
family and friends in Houston, Texas. He continued working during
those years, but at an increasingly slower pace.
During his final years, the University of Houston
persuaded him to have an exhibition at their temporary art gallery.
Dr. Peter Guenther wrote of that exhibition:
"Mastery of the medium, sensitivity and
the quiet, strong determination to permit the inner reality
to find its expression in a modern and very personal form, marks
the works of Ary Stillman exhibited here for the first time
in Houston. Although the selection given here spans more years
than the average age of our students, it is only a small part
of the painter's creative horizon. The exhibition is therefore
not a retrospective one and no viewer need impose a historical
attitude on himself but may permit these works to span the gap
between the knowledge of the today and the experience and wisdom
of ages-long-past through images which a painter's heart and
mind have gathered and gained through the years."
Ary & Music
Music was Ary's love, after painting. He was an
avid concert goer, and in his New York studio he always had
the radio tuned to the music stations as he worked. He didn't
know one note from another, but he usually could recognize any
composer he had heard to any extent.
I found it interesting to note the reviews in
which his paintings were compared to music. Of course the paintings
mentioned were named simply for exhibition purposes, since the
public likes a title. Ary never consciously tried to translate
music into painting. However, he would often say to people who
were seeking some explanation of his abstractions, "Look
at them the way you listen to music." In other words, don't
seek a literary connotation; this is an abstract art like music.
The following are quotes from critics who wrote
for various New York publications:
"These new compositions bear a direct relation
to music and might appropriately be called tone poems. A number
of them are on Indian themes, including the large Indian Legend,
with shimmering water suggested in the foreground, moving back
and around, but always within the picture frame."
The Art Digest
"... a style dominated by a new lyric use
of color and aiming at suggestion rather than representation.
Paintings on Indian themes remind one of music as for example,
Sibelius suggests an old tribal war mood in 'Saga.'"
New York Times
"...I use colors like a composer uses musical
notes,' he says, and although he has no actual system of color-and-sound
counterparts, as some extreme theorists have attempted, Stillman's
paintings do remind one of the emotional overtones of certain
Pictures on Exhibit
"...Some titles, such as 'Jazz,' indicate
that certain ones have been inspired by hearing music..."
New York Times
January 29, 1950
"Ary Stillman's current exhibition asserts
again how well an abstract style can serve lyrical statement
and enrich the evocative image . . . Musical themes inspire
these paintings, and without descending to trite analogies,
they successfully translate the intangibles of one art form
into another. Overture, for example, captures the rising sense
of promising beginnings that such a musical composition can
The Art Digest
February 1, 1950
"...Designed, for the most part, on musical
themes (some of his titles are "Obligato," Overture,"
and "Jazz,") the handsome new canvases are rhythmical
in pattern, so composed that the well defined shapes hold together
in, almost, magnetic fashion."
New York Herald Tribune
January 26, 1950
the rippling cadences with which
he defines a mass of form eliciting a sensation of movement..."
New York Herald Tribune
January 21, 1951
"...Stillman's linear patterns always have
been decidedly musical. This year they are choppier than last,
as if he had been listening to Bartok instead of Debussy."
James Fitzimmons of Art Digest
(now editor of Art International)
January 15, 1952
"On the other hand, Ary Stillman's paintings
at the Bertha Schaefer Gallery carry abstraction deep into its
'romantic' phase. For him, plastic rhythms are a means of evoking
poetic content. Color, refulgent and suggestive, stirs the visual
imagination to respond to something beyond the world of pure
shapes. Texture and technique are also used to this end
New York Times
January 27, 1952
"...Ary Stillman was always a master painter.
Of course, one realizes that he did not emerge fully armed from
the brow of Zeus as did Athena, that there were periods of study
which led to mastery, and other early periods when necessity
forced an abandonment of painting, but the dedication to it
was never lost and the technical mastery which gave meaning
was ever present."
James Chillman, Jr.
(Director of Houston Museum of Fine Art 1924 - 1954)
on canvas 20 x 24 in.
We worked long hours, but on Sundays and
holidays and occasionally in the evening I would have
a chance to paint I would set up a still life on the table
at the back of the store, or I would paint a portrait.
Pg. 52, Ary Stillman from Reminiscences-Recollections
or Reflections of His Life
by A ry and Frances Stillman
Then began for Ary what undoubtedly was the happiest
period of his life. He was madly in love with Paris†with her beauty,
her spirit, her language, her art. Here was ambiance in which
he felt entirely at home. There was a subtly, a refinement, a
delicacy, a "bon gout" which set every fiber of his being to vibrating.
He was suddenly set free from all bonds, which had been shackling
him all those years in Sioux City.
Page 44, Reminiscences
"When Ary Stillman returned to New York in
1933, he came as an established painter. His paintings were still
representational but with a subjectivity, which continued to mark
his works. He dealt with scenes of the streets, the market places
and the parks where the rush of humanity is always visible. But
he treated them with a distinctly personal approach, in which
the impact to the viewer came from the thoughts and inner feelings
of the artist rather than from descriptive realism."
James Chillman, Jr.
Ary's painting had undergone a radical change.
This had been brewing ever since the early part
of World War II. Ary was, of course, profoundly shaken by the
war, by the enormity and brutality and hideousness of it, and
especially by the tragic fate of six million Jews. He was in an
emotional upheaval that affected every phase of his being, and
of course this included walks we would take in Central Park on
Sunday afternoons; we would wind up in some secluded spot and
then Ary would give voice to his thoughts and feelings. He would
say, "I cannot continue to paint the way I have been doing,
I am sure that every creative person will have to make some change.
For me, the world of surface realities is no longer paintable.
For nothing is as it formerly seemed. It is not the surface of
thingsthe look of thingsthat is realit is that
which is hidden beneath the surfacean inner reality of some
sort that is real. And that is what I must search for. I can no
longer set up a still-life, or paint the view of a city street,
no matter how much of my own perception and sensitivity I put
into the painting. I shall have to dig down deep within myselfback
to my subconscious, if possibleand bring out what will be
an inner reality."
Pg. 81, Reminiscences
We read everything on pre-Cortez times that we could
find. Prescott's history of the conquest of Mexico and Peru; Bernal
diaz del Castillo, who described so quaintly and so graphically
the country and the people and the details of the coming of the
Spaniards, as one of Cortez' men; more recent writers on the culture
of the Aztecs, the Mayans, the Incas. Also general mythology such
as the Golden Bough, poetry such as The White Pony, an anthology
of Chinese poetry from 1.100 B.C. through 1921. All this fired
Ary's imagination, and what with improved physical condition,
greater peace of mind, and new stimuli to inspire him, Ary's incredibly
rich imagination began to reassert itself. Now, he fantasized,
he had discovered through excavating among ancient ruins, a "palace
of the prince" and everything that poured forth as he sat
in the armchair in the corner of the verandah was something he
carried away from the walls of this ancient palace. So in 1960
he began a series of gouaches, which in creativeness, in spontaneity,
in line and form are perhaps the culmination, or at least the
beginning of the culmination of his entire career as a non-representational
painter. Ary felt that himself, "I am a new Ary" he
would say. He even decided that this new Ary should have his name
on the paintings rather than the old Stillman whose depression
he had fought off. So one will find that practically all of the
gouaches and many of the later canvases bear the name Ary. Later
on, after we left Mexico, he drifted back into signing Stillman