An off-white house, set behind a tree with branches reaching over the roof, sits in an opulent environment of greens, browns, and yellows. Visible brush strokes in the siding of the house show shadows and rotting wood; in the tree, they texture the roundness of the trunk and the wispiness of the uppermost limbs, seeming to stretch as far as they can until they taper off. A thin, copper ladder rests against the porch, while further in the distance sits an indistinct red building.
About the Artist: Born in New York, New York, Varian studied at Cooper Union after dropping out of high school at age 15. Graduating with honors, she went on to study under John Sloan at the Art Students League. During her time there, she met Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney and the two formed a professional relationship, opening the Studio Club with fifteen other prominent New York artists in 1918. Varian developed her skills as a Colorist in Paris, where she studied from 1920 to 1922. While there, she held her first one-woman show at the Durand-Ruel Galleries. Choosing to move to Woodstock, New York after Paris was a social choice for Varian; many of her colleagues from the Studio Club and Art Students League had settled there to serve in teaching roles at the Woodstock School of Art, where she exhibited on numerous occasions. Varian also showed at the Brooklyn Museum, Carnegie International, Corcoran Galleries, Downtown Galleries, Museum of Modern Art (1936), Smithsonian American Art Museum, Whitney Museum of American Art, and Yale University. Critics and viewers alike commented on her use of color as a focal point of her pieces; one noted her “luminous values and clarity of line”, while highlighting the “refreshing simplicity” of her brush strokes (“Varian”). Another praised how each of her paintings “demonstrate her concern with beauty”, and likewise her perfection of “depth, space, and light” perception (“Woodstock”). With her upbringing in the Arts Students League, she was “among the progressive artists challenging the strictures” of traditional art (Kiehl). Many of Varian’s contemporaries worked with Cubism, Precisionism, and Surrealism; the perspective she applied to her work is uncanny in nature, with attention paid to the accentuation of brush strokes and distorted dimensions. In offering lush color contrast and variety, however, Varian displays an emotional complexity rooted in natural environments. 6 works at the Whitney Museum of Art. 5 works at Woodstock Artists Association & Museum. 1 work at the Woodstock School of Art. 1 work at Smithsonian American Art Museum. 4 more images at FAP. Papers can be found at Archives of American Art.
Sources Consulted: “Varian Exhibition Open at Parnassus to Sept. 10,” Kingston Daily Freeman 25 Aug. 1953: 9; “Woodstock Artist Has Showing in L.I. University,” Kingston Daily Freeman 6 Nov. 1961: 24; David W. Kiehl, Between the Wars: Women Artists of the Whitney Studio Club and Museum (Whitney Museum of Art, 1997).
Michalak, Benjamin (biography)