(1905 - 1926)
50 x 66 cm
Pastel on paper.
Signed bottom right: Gross-Bettelheim
Very little is known about the life of Jolán Gross. She was admitted to the Budapest Academy of Fine Arts in 1918, but did not start the second year of her studies due to the White Terror. In Vienna, she attended the Kunstgewerbeschule for one year, where she studied with Emil Orlik, and then continued her studies in Berlin with Karl Hofer. In the 1920s, Berlin was the centre of avant-garde art, where expressionist and constructivist artists (Kandinsky, Otto Dix, George Grosz) gathered, the famous Sturm Gallery was opened by Herwarth Walden and for a short time the Bauhaus school was also based there. Gross' entire later artistic career was influenced by her two years in Berlin.
In 1925, in the United States, she married Frigyes Bettelheim, a Hungarian émigré psychologist, and they moved to Cleveland. From that time on, she retroactively signed her works Gross-Bettelheim (with the letter J at the top of her first name). She continued her studies at the Cleveland School of Art with Henry Kelly. In 1937, she and her husband moved to New York, and Jolán Gross-Bettelheim has since become a prominent figure in the American Precisionist school. From then until 1956, not a year went by that her work was not exhibited in a famous American gallery or museum. These include the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Whitney Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The latter currently has eight of her paintings in its collection.
Jolán Gross-Bettelheim's works from the American period, i.e. from 1925 to 1955, can be divided into three major groups: the first group includes works on the theme of the big city (first Berlin, then Clevland, New York) and the palette. These include the typical metropolitan motifs and suburban attributes without the concrete presence of man: the poles carrying telegraph wires, the ornate lanterns of the turn of the century are part of the motif treasure trove, as are the traverses of high-voltage power lines, chimneys, pipe snakes, bridges, the rails and frame structures of the elevated railway, railings, steel gondolas and pillars. From all of this, the overall picture of a 20th century American metropolis, even New York, emerges, if not through the evocation of the familiar skyscrapers, then through the humanisation and artification of a deeper content, of raw suburban industrial disorder and rampant technology. The other major group of Gross-Bettelheim's works are satirical drawings depicting metropolitan ladies and café gatherings with murderous, absurd humour.They are influenced by German Expressionism and Verism: the sometimes brutal harshness of Georg Grosz and Otto Dix, their alienating, satirical tone. Finally, the third group is made up of left-wing, anti-fascist works.
The pastel painting the New York rooftop belongs to the first group.Gross-Bettelheim counterbalances the harshness and coldness of the metropolis's sooty brick walls, tin-roofed chimneys and aluminized pipes with the purity of the clean clothes laid out, the delicacy of the drying rope and lace curtains, and the softness of the pastel. Gross-Bettelheim's pastel paintings have only been shown once in a solo exhibition, but in a more prominent venue, at the Durand-Ruel Gallery in New York in 1945.