Will Barnet (American, born May 25, 1911–died November 13, 2012) was a painter and printmaker, best known for his abstract depictions of women and domestic scenes. His works reflect an emphasis on flat painting surfaces and meditative tones. Barnet was born in Beverly, MA, and studied at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts between 1927 and 1930. As early as 1934, he became the official printer for the Arts Students League, New York, where he had printed for the Mexican Muralist, Jose Clemente Orozco. At the school, he taught and influenced several generations of artists. Barnet was a figurative artist throughout his career, although there was a period in the 1940s when he experimented with using semi-abstract forms to replace realistic space.

By the mid-1950s, Barnet had reduced his works to simple pictographs. The paintings were abstract, yet human shapes could still be discerned. The 1955 painting Janis and the White Vertebra is one of his best-known works from this time. He quickly became dissatisfied, and, in 1962, he exhibited a new series of paintings that reasserted the human figure as his primary subject matter. One of his works from this period is a woodcut titled Big Grey (1962). Barnet is probably best known for his enigmatic portraits of family, made from the 1970s onwards, notably the Silent Seasons series.

Barnet counted John Singer Sargent among his influences, having actually seen him working on the murals at the Boston Public Library firsthand. The artist taught abstract and figurative painting and drawing at the Arts Students League, and actively showed his work at several galleries, including the Alexandre Gallery, in New York, NY. His work has been on display in several museums, most notably the Smithsonian National Gallery of Art. Barnet’s work has been critiqued in several books, catalogues, and magazines. He received numerous awards and recognitions, and was a member of National Academy of Design, The Century Association, and the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Barnet lived and worked in New York. He died at his home in Manhattan at the age of 101.

Timeline

1911
Born, Beverly, MA
1927–1933
Art Education at Boston Museum of Fine Arts School
1978
Elected Fellow of Royal Society of Arts London, England
1982
Elected to American Academy and Institute of Arts
1989
Awarded Honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts, Massachusetts College of Art, Boston, MA

Exhibitions

2003
Will Barnet: A Poster Retrospective, Digital Sandbox Gallery, New York, NY
2003
Six Indian Space Artists: Will Barnet, Robert Barrell, Gertrude Barrer, Peter Busa, Howard Daum, Steve Wheeler, David Findlay Jr Inc., New York, NY
2000–2001
Traveling Solo Retrospective, Montclair Art Museum Montclair, NJ
1995
National Museum of American Art Washington, D.C.
1983
Solo retrospective exhibit, Wichita Art Museum Wichita, KS
1980
Retrospective, Documents, Paris, France
1973
Hirschl & Adler Galleries, New York, NY
1956
New York University Art Gallery, New York, NY
1943
Galerie St. Etienne, New York, NY
1943
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, VA