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The Yellow Fan

Not on view

The Yellow Fan

Artist: Alexander Brook (American, 1898 - 1980)

Date: 1930
Medium: Oil on canvas
Framed: 35 3/4 × 41 3/4 × 2 1/2in. (90.8 × 106 × 6.4cm)
Overall: 35 3/4 × 41 5/8 × 2 5/8in. (90.8 × 105.7 × 6.7cm)
Signed: Lower right (black paint): 'A. Brook / '30'
Credit Line: Edward W. Root Bequest
Object number: 57.88
Label Text
In 1930, Brook won second prize for a painting he exhibited in the Carnegie Institute’s International Exhibition of Modern Painting. (Pablo Picasso [1881-1973] was awarded first place in the same exhibition!) In this work Brook dramatized the personal characteristics of the model, his wife Peggy Bacon (1895-1987), instead of merely making the picture an accurate depiction of mass, space, and depth. The background of the work, specifically the corner of the room, is not as defined as Bacon’s physical attributes, and it lacks the darker colors and shadows that typically delineate the depths of a painting. Instead, Brook focused attention on Bacon’s hair and eyes by making them more saturated in color than the rest of the painting. In doing so, he established a sensual connection between himself and Bacon that otherwise might not exist had the subject been a typical studio model. Edward Root once noted that while this painting may be “lacking in atmosphere in the darker areas,” it is still “romantic in its tenderness.”

Katerina Adair
Hamilton College 2007 Intern
Text Entries

From 1925 to 1927 Alexander Brook was Assistant Director of the Whitney Studio Club. Through this organization Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney fostered exhibitions and activities for the more progressive artists in the New York area. The core group of Whitney Studio Club artists, such as Peggy Bacon, Alexander Brook, Reginald Marsh, Henry Schnakenberg, and their teacher Kenneth Hayes Miller, came from the Art Students League and were oriented toward painting the human figure. (1) While Brook was dedicated to upholding the traditional artists’ methods emphasized in the Art Students League, he was open to experimentation in composition and surface treatment. Although not a modernist, he had a moderately expressive brushstroke, which ranged from a vigorous to a delicate feathery touch, as well as a personal sense of color combined with an intelligent simplification of form.

During the mid-1920s, Brook established his reputation with studio pictures which seem to form a bridge with the preceding century. In the twentieth century the accouterments of the studio—still life and models themselves—and how they were painted became the major subject of art. However, in the nineteenth century the studio picture generally depicted the artist’s work space and reflected aspects of his life. For example, in The Artists Studio (Louvre) of 1854-55 by Courbet, the artist filled his space with models, friends, and people from different social and political levels of society in order to present an allegory on realism. On the other hand, in The Artisfs Studio (National Gallery of Art, Washington) of 1860-70 by Corot, the artist isolated himself from any social relations. As his substitute, the model daydreams before the landscape on the artist’s easel, thereby transporting herself from the daily world of the studio into the poetic landscape.

Brook’s models are posed sitting, reading, sleeping, or daydreaming rather than caught in an active slice of life atmosphere in the studio. Although family and friends, his models remain anonymous and are rarely used for straight- forward portraits. In his own self-portrait of 1926, Sad But True (location unknown), he seems to indicate his preference to suffuse his subjects with a romantic, moody spirit.(2)

In The Yellow Fan Brook has situated his model in a pearly pink half-slip with a muted yellow fan propped on her lap. In contrast to the earlier impastoed brushwork of paintings such as Bouquet (Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute Museum of Art) of 1928, he delicately applied his colors and softened his contours, drapery folds, and hair- lines with a fuzzy gray-black line. Although certainly aware of the tradition of intimate scenes of women in the boudoirs, which began in the eighteenth century, Brook was influenced by the lounging semi-nude figures of Jules Pascin, a French artist active in the United States in the mid- to late 1920s. In the Utica picture Brook turned a potentially erotic subject—his wife Peggy Bacon—into a softly focused study of a figure resting at a table against a plain, medium-blue wall and staring blankly out into the spectator’s space.

In 1929, a year before The Yellow Fan, the United States suffered the biggest financial upset in its history. During the 1930s the Depression was a major force in moving artists toward social comment. Yet at the same time some artists, such as Brook, eschewed specific reference to contemporary events and communicated their humanity in their private concerns and dreams. Brook withdrew into his studio away from a political role in society.


1. For a discussion of the Whitney Studio Club, see Patricia Hills and Roberta K. Tarbell, The Figurative Tradition and the Whitney Museum of American Art, exhibition catalog (New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 1980), pp. 14-17.

2. For an illustration of this work, see A Retrospective Exhibition of Paintings by Alexander Brook, exhibition catalog (New York: Salander-O’Reilly Galleries, lnc., 1980), no. 9. In 1945 Brook stated that “any good portrait is a self-portrait, not the physical likeness of the painter of course, but an identifiable reflection of his preference.” Alexander Brook (New York: American Artists Group, Inc., 1945), unpaged.



Presumed copyright: the artist or the artist's representative/heir(s).