Porter, Fairfield, 1907-1975

Variant names

Hide Profile

Fairfield Porter (1907-1975) was a painter and critic from Southampton, N.Y.

Fairfield Porter was born near Chicago in 1907, the fourth of five children of James and Ruth Furness Porter. His father was an architect, his mother a poet from a literary family, and Porter grew up in an environment where art and literature were highly valued. His father designed the family homes in Winnetka, Illinois and on Great Spruce Head Island, an island in Maine that he purchased for the family in 1912. Fairfield Porter spent summers there from the age of six, and views of the island, its structures, and neighboring towns were the subjects of many paintings.

Porter attended Harvard from 1924 to 1928, studying fine art with Arthur Pope and philosophy with Alfred North Whitehead. After graduating from Harvard, Porter moved to New York City and took studio classes at the Art Students League from 1928 until 1930, studying with Boardman Robinson and Thomas Hart Benton, and immersing himself in the art and radical politics of Greenwich Village. In the 1940s, he studied at Parson's School of Design with art restorer Jacques Maroger, adopting the Maroger recipe for an oil medium in his own painting.

To further his education as an artist, Porter traveled to Europe in 1931, where he spent time with expatriate art theorist Bernard Berenson and his circle. When he returned to New York, he allied himself with progressive, socialist organizations, and like many of his contemporaries, worked at creating socially relevant art. He did artwork for the John Reed Club, a communist group; taught drawing classes for Rebel Arts, a socialist arts organization; wrote for their magazine, Arise! ; and created a mural for the Queens branch of the Socialist Party. Living in the Chicago area for several years in the 1930s, he illustrated chapbooks for the socialist poet John Wheelwright's Poems for a Dime and Poems for Two Bits series. Porter's financial contributions to the radical Chicago publication Living Marxism kept it afloat for several years.

In 1932, Porter married Anne Channing, a poet from Boston, and they settled in New York. The Porters had five children, and their first son, born in 1934, suffered from a severe form of autism. In the next decade, they had two more sons, and spent three years in Porter's hometown of Winnetka, where he had his first solo exhibition of paintings. When they returned to New York in 1939, the Porters became friends with Edwin Denby, Rudy Burkhardt, and Elaine and Willem de Kooning. Porter became an earnest admirer of Willem de Kooning's artwork and was among the first to review and purchase it.

In 1949, the Porters moved to the small, seaside town of Southampton, New York. Their two daughters were born in 1950 and 1956. Like the family home on Great Spruce Head Island, Southampton became the setting of many of Porter's paintings. In fact, almost all of his mature paintings depict family homes, surrounding landscapes, family members, and friends. Porter was an individualistic painter who embraced figurative art in the late 1940s and 1950s, when abstract expressionism was the prevailing aesthetic trend. Porter once made a comment that his commitment to figurative painting was made just to spite art critic Clement Greenberg, a respected critic and ideologue who had championed abstract expressionism and denigrated realism as passé.

Porter established his reputation as a painter and as a writer in the 1950s. John Bernard Myers of the vanguard Tibor de Nagy gallery gave Porter his first New York exhibition in 1951 and represented him for the next twenty years. That same year Tom Hess, editor of ArtNews, hired Porter to write art features and reviews. Porter went on to contribute to ArtNews until 1967 and also became art editor for The Nation beginning in 1959, the same year his article on Willem de Kooning won the Longview Foundation Award in art criticism. As a critic, Porter visited countless galleries and studios, and he gained a reputation for writing about art with the understanding and vested interest of an artist, and with the same independence from fashionable ideas that he demonstrated in his artwork.

The 1950s and 1960s were prolific years for Porter's writing and art, and saw the development of his critical ideas and the maturation of his painting. Porter enjoyed an elder status among a circle of younger artists such as Jane Freilicher, Larry Rivers, and Alex Katz, and their many poet friends, now known as the New York School of Poetry: Frank O'Hara, John Ashbery, James Schuyler, Kenneth Koch, Barbara Guest, and others. Porter himself wrote poetry and was published in the 1950s, sometimes alongside poems by his wife, who had been publishing poetry since the 1930s (twice in the vanguard Chicago journal, Poetry ). The Porters' correspondence is laced with poems they and their friends sent back and forth, often about and dedicated to each other.

Besides his annual exhibitions at Tibor de Nagy and later Hirschl and Adler Galleries, Porter exhibited regularly at the Whitney, and had one-man exhibitions at many museums including the Rhode Island School of Design (1959), The University of Alabama (1963), Cleveland Museum of Art (his first retrospective, 1966), Trinity College (1967), the Parrish Art Museum (1971), the Maryland Institute of Art (1973), and the 1968 Venice Biennale. He also had residencies at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture (1964) and Amherst College (1969). Porter died in 1975 at age 68. A full-scale retrospective of his artwork was held at the Boston Museum of Fine Art, Boston in 1983, and a study center and permanent home for his artwork was established at the Parrish Art Museum in Southampton through a donation made by Anne Porter. A posthumous collection of his poems was published by Tibor de Nagy Editions in 1985, and a catalogue raisonnée, edited by Joan Ludman, was published in 2001.

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn Porter, Fairfield : Biographical file. Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center
creatorOf PORTER, FAIRFIELD. Artist file : miscellaneous uncataloged material. Museum of Modern Art (MOMA)
creatorOf John Button papers Archives of American Art
creatorOf Porter, Fairfield, 1907-1975. [Fairfield Porter] : artist file John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art Library, Ringling Museum Library
contributorOf Letters from Fairfield Porter and others to Carl Morse Houghton Library
contributorOf Ellen de' Pazzi video recordings and papers Archives of American Art
creatorOf Elmslie, Kenward. Papers, 1901-2000. University of California, San Diego, UC San Diego Library; UCSD Library
referencedIn Nell Blaine papers Houghton Library
referencedIn Fales Portrait/Subject Collection, ca. 1800-Present Fales Library & Special Collections
referencedIn Joan Ludman papers relating to Fairfield Porter Archives of American Art
referencedIn Gross McCleaf Gallery selected artists' files, Archives of American Art
referencedIn Isabel Bishop papers Archives of American Art
creatorOf Theo Hios papers Archives of American Art
creatorOf Alan Gussow research material for A Sense of Place Archives of American Art
referencedIn Kenneth Koch papers, ca. 1939-1995 The New York Public Library. Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection of English and American Literature.
creatorOf Porter, Fairfield. Fairfield Porter : artist file : study photographs and reproductions of works of art with accompanying documentation 1930?-1990 [graphic] [compiled by staff of The Museum of Modern Art, New York]. Frick Art Reference Library of The Frick Collection
referencedIn Eliot, Henry Ware, 1879-1947, collector. T. S. Eliot collection, 1881-1994. Houghton Library
referencedIn Jane Freilicher papers, 1945-1995. Houghton Library
creatorOf Fairfield Porter papers Archives of American Art
referencedIn Prescott D. Schutz research files on Fairfield Porter Archives of American Art
referencedIn American Federation of Arts records Archives of American Art
referencedIn James Schuyler Papers, 1947-1991 University of California, San Diego. Geisel Library. Mandeville Special Collections Library.
referencedIn Grace Hartigan Papers, 1942-2006 Syracuse University. Library. Special Collections Research Center
referencedIn Richard Stankiewicz papers Archives of American Art
referencedIn Porter, Fairfield, 1907-1975 : [miscellaneous ephemeral material]. Metropolitan Museum of Art, Thomas J. Watson Library
referencedIn Alix Jeffry photographs Harvard Theater Collection, Houghton Library, Harvard College Library, Harvard University
referencedIn Ben Johnson Papers, 1951-1968 Syracuse University. Library. Special Collections Research Center
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn Oral history interview with Jane Freilicher Archives of American Art
referencedIn Oral history interview with Alex Katz Archives of American Art
referencedIn Oral history interview with Richard Stankiewicz Archives of American Art
creatorOf Oral history interview with Fairfield Porter Archives of American Art
Relation Name
associatedWith American Federation of Arts. corporateBody
associatedWith Benton, Thomas Hart, 1889-1975. person
associatedWith Bishop, Isabel, 1902-1988. person
correspondedWith Blaine, Nell, 1922-1996 person
associatedWith Brainard, Joe, 1942- person
associatedWith Burkhardt, Rudy person
associatedWith Burkhardt, Rudy. person
associatedWith Button, John, 1929-1982. person
associatedWith Coryllis, Peter. person
associatedWith Cummings, Paul person
associatedWith Day, Lucien B., 1916- person
associatedWith De Kooning, Elaine. person
associatedWith De Kooning, Willem, 1904- person
associatedWith De' Pazzi, Ellen. person
associatedWith Downes, Rackstraw. person
associatedWith Elmslie, Kenward. person
associatedWith Evergood, Philip, 1901-1973. person
associatedWith Freilicher, Jane, 1924- person
associatedWith Frielicher, Jane person
associatedWith Frielicher, Jane. person
associatedWith Giardelli, Arthur. person
associatedWith Greenberg, Clement, 1909-1994. person
associatedWith Gross McCleaf Gallery. corporateBody
associatedWith Guest, Barbara. person
associatedWith Gussow, Alan, 1931- person
associatedWith Hartigan, Grace. person
associatedWith Hartl, Léon, 1889- person
associatedWith Hess, Thomas B. person
associatedWith Hios, Theo, 1908- person
associatedWith Hirschl & Adler Galleries corporateBody
associatedWith Hirschl & Adler Galleries. corporateBody
associatedWith Jeffry, Alix person
associatedWith Johnson, Ben, 1902-1967 person
associatedWith Katz, Alex, 1927- person
associatedWith Koch, Kenneth, 1925- person
associatedWith Laning, Edward, 1906- person
associatedWith Lichtenstein, Roy, 1923- person
associatedWith Lichtenstein, Roy, 1923- person
associatedWith Ludman, Joan person
associatedWith Ludman, Joan. person
associatedWith Maroger, Jacques, 1884-1962. person
associatedWith Morse, Carl. person
associatedWith Museum of Modern Art (New York, N.Y.) corporateBody
associatedWith Myers, John Bernard person
associatedWith Myers, John Bernard. person
associatedWith O'Hara, Frank. person
associatedWith Padgett, Ron person
associatedWith Padgett, Ron. person
spouseOf Porter, Anne, 1911- person
associatedWith Porter, Ruth W., 1875-1942 person
associatedWith Rivers, Larry, 1925- person
associatedWith Rivers, Larry, 1925-2002. person
associatedWith Schloss, Edith person
associatedWith Schloss, Edith, 1919- person
associatedWith Schutz, Prescott D. person
correspondedWith Schuyler, James person
associatedWith Schuyler, James. person
associatedWith Shapiro, David, 1947- person
associatedWith Stankiewicz, Richard, 1922-1983. person
associatedWith The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art Library. corporateBody
associatedWith Tibor de Nagy Gallery. corporateBody
associatedWith Vasilieff, Nicholas. person
Place Name Admin Code Country
New York City NY US
Southampton NY US
Chicago IL US
Art, American
Art criticism
Art critics
Painting, Modern


Birth 1907-06-10

Death 1975-09-18



Permalink: http://n2t.net/ark:/99166/w6kh1f8m

Ark ID: w6kh1f8m

SNAC ID: 26462769