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George Ault

(1891 - 1948)

A precisionist and surrealist painter, especially noted for nocturnes, George Ault had the ability to depict lonely, everyday beauty of the world in a moment of absolute stillness. He also experimented with more traditional styles of realism, but was relatively untouched by modernist abstraction. His paintings were based on what he saw around him, many of them architectural subjects, and rendered in a quietly controlled manner.

He was born in Cleveland, Ohio, and in 1899 moved to London with his family and attended the Slade School and St. John's Wood Art School. He traveled extensively on the Continent, which exposed him to avant-garde art movements. In 1911, he returned to the United States, and by 1937 was settled in Woodstock, New York where he freely explored his passion for the play of light at a favorite spot called Russell's Corners. He did numerous scenes that are almost entirely black, illuminated by a light high on an electrical pole.

Although his childhood had been a happy one, from his mid 20s, he experienced mounting tragedy. His family lost their fortune; his mother died in a mental hospital; all three of his brothers committed suicide; he had a losing battle with alcoholism; and he lost his eyesight. He and his wife lived a reclusive, impoverished existence in Woodstock, without electricity or plumbing and his studio was exceedingly spartan. His own death in 1948 appeared to be suicide.

In his work he explored a variety of modern styles, but about 1920 settled on architectural, urban themes rendered carefully and geometrically, with a great sense of design and careful paint application. The paintings had a romantic, poetic quality, and, perhaps reflecting his own personal sadnesses, often depicted isolated objects in spare settings as well as many nocturnes.

By 1946, he turned to primarily abstract subjects, a world of random shapes and imaginary landscapes. He was a great admirer of Giorgio de Chirico, Italian surrealist, and Ault's later work showed more and more of this influence.


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