Gertrude Abercrombie (1909 – 1977) was a painter, jazz devotee, Chicago bohemian and saloniste who, until recently, was a relatively unknown artist outside of the Midwest. However, a 2018 solo show at the Karma gallery in New York and recent scholarship have helped to launch a re-discovery of Abercrombie as a talented and important player in American surrealist art.
In her Hyde-Park, Chicago home Abercrombie frequently hosted artists, writers, and jazz musicians passing through the city, putting her at the hub of literary, musical, and artistic cultural circles in the 1940s and 50s. Amid this artistic milieu, she produced intimately scaled paintings with a highly controlled and muted color palette. The works were often populated by isolated objects of personal significance—such as moons, towers, cats, trees, and owls—as well as portraits of the artist herself. Like other great surrealists, Abercrombie’s work is often interpreted as a coded window into her unconscious and psychological traumas.
Just before she died, Abercrombie was the subject of a retrospective exhibition at the Hyde Park Art Center. By then, Abercrombie had made sure to keep or buy back many of her finest works, which her Trust later distributed to museums around the United States, and in particular the Illinois State Museum. Today, her work is represented in the permanent collections of the Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL; the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, IL; the Ackland Art Museum, Chapel Hill, NC; and the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, Madison, WI. In 2018, she was the subject of a solo exhibition at the Karma gallery in New York and a comprehensive monograph.