It could hardly be more fitting: Two Janes sharing a posthumous retrospective in a museum that looks out on the very landscape that inspired them as Water Mill neighbors.
"Jane Freilicher and Jane Wilson: Seen and Unseen" opens Sunday at the Parrish Art Museum, near where the artists lived and worked most summers since the 1950s. "We had a magical drive," Freilicher recalls in a quote from curator Alicia Longwell's essay in the exhibition catalog. "A bunch of friends and I were driven out in a convertible. We arrived at dawn and it was very beautiful, very bright and green in the sunlight." She and the other Jane were part of the same New York art circle, which in the '50s did not include many women -- certainly not many, like Wilson, who sold a painting from her first show to the Museum of Modern Art, or, Freilicher, whose first solo exhibit was reviewed by Fairfield Porter. "Her painting is traditional and radical," he wrote. Porter, who moved his family to Southampton in 1949, became host to many younger artists gravitating to the Hamptons, drawn by camaraderie and the light that bounced off nearby bays and the ocean. They partied with Larry Rivers and Grace Hartigan and dropped in on Willem de Kooning, painting in his overalls.
BEYOND ABSTRACT Both artists were schooled in Abstract Expressionism -- the era's predominant art movement. Brooklyn-born Freilicher studied with Hans Hoffmann after graduating from Brooklyn College; Wilson, an Iowa farm girl, with Philip Guston at the University of Iowa. Decades later each won lifetime achievement awards from East Hampton's Guild Hall. They died at age 90, barely a month apart, in 2014 and early this year.
The Janes are credited with redefining American landscape and still-life painting. Freilicher spoke of "the seen" in her paintings -- a more objective, less impulsive viewpoint. Wilson spoke of "unseen moments of strong sensation."
CITY/COUNTRY Disparate early-life influences are apparent in the Parrish show -- 25 works from each artist. Longwell notes that Freilicher remembered her father bringing home flowers, which as a child, she found "more delightful than if he'd brought toys." A window frames many of her still lifes, with flowers represented in the foreground or in bright sunlight just beyond. Her style has been described as "urban pastoral." Both aspects of the term are seen at the Parrish: "Twelfth Street and Beyond" (1976) with a streetscape outside and "Flowering Pear" (1991) with the ocean as backdrop.
Wilson, who said she painted from memory -- she was not a plein-air enthusiast -- had a "bred-in-the-bones feeling about the weather," says Longwell. "Her work suggests atmosphere, a meteorological effect." "Yesterday's Clouds," from 2010, is a recent example, along with "Near Night" and "New Year's Day," both painted in Water Mill in 1988.
"Neither would have come here for 60 years," says Longwell, "if they weren't inspired by the atmosphere."
WHEN | WHERE Sunday through Jan. 18, Parrish Art Museum, 279 Montauk Hwy., Water Mill. Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Wednesdays-Mondays, until 8 p.m. Fridays
ADMISSION $10, seniors $8, students free; 631-283-2118, parrishart.org