L a w r e n c e = K u p f e r m a n - - 1 9 0 9 - 1 9 8 2

Modernist Abstration, African American


Lawrence Kupferman (1909 - 1982) was born in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston and grew up in a working-class family. His father was an Austrian Jewish immigrant who worked as a cigar maker. His mother died in 1914, and five-year-old Lawrence was sent to live with his grandparents.

Kupferman attended the Boston Latin School and took part in the high school art program at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. In the late 1920s, he studied drawing under Philip Leslie Hale at the Museum School —an experience he called 'stultifying and repressive'. In 1932 he transferred to the Massachusetts College of Art, where he first met his wife, the artist Ruth Cobb. He returned briefly to the Museum School in 1946 to study with the influential expressionist German-American painter Karl Zerbe where he was first introduced to the encaustic medium.

Kupferman held various jobs while pursuing his artistic career, including two years as a security guard at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. During the 1930s he worked as a drypoint etcher for the Federal Art Project, creating architectural drawings in a formally realistic style—these works are held in the collections of the Fogg Museum and the Smithsonian American Art Museum. In the 1940s he began incorporating more expressionistic forms into his paintings, as he became progressively more concerned with abstraction. In 1946 he began spending summers in Provincetown, Massachusetts, where he met and was influenced by Mark Rothko, Hans Hofmannn, Jackson Pollock, and other abstract painters. About the same time he began exhibiting his work at the Boris Mirski Gallery on Newbury Street.

In 1948, Kupferman was at the center of a controversy involving hundreds of Boston-area artists. In February of that year, the Boston Institute of Modern Art issued a manifesto titled 'Modern Art and the American Public' decrying 'the excesses of modern art,' and announced that it was changing its name to the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA). The poorly conceived statement, intended to distinguish Boston's art scene from that of New York, was widely perceived as an attack on modernism. In protest, Boston artists such as Karl Zerbe, Jack Levine, and David Aronson formed the 'Modern Artists Group' and organized a mass meeting. On March 21, 300 artists, students, and other supporters met at the Old South Meeting House and demanded that the ICA retract its statement. Kupferman chaired the meeting and read this statement to the press:
“The recent manifesto of the Institute is a fatuous declaration which misinforms and misleads the public concerning the integrity and intention of the modern artist. By arrogating to itself the privilege of telling the artists what art should be, the Institute runs counter to the original purposes of this organization whose function was to encourage and to assimilate contemporary innovation.”

Among the other speakers were Karl Knaths, H. W. Janson, Zerbe, Levine, and Aronson. In May 1950, the ICA issued a joint statement with the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art affirming the value of modern and abstract art.

Kupferman became a professor at the Massachusetts College of Art and went on to chair its Painting Department, where he was known for introducing innovative practices and techniques. In his mature later work, he developed a unique expressionist vernacular of delicately articulated marine-like surrealist forms. About his 1948 painting, Evening Tide, he said, 'This might be at the deepest bottom of an ocean, where light comes only from microscopic life forms, or it could be out, far beyond Venus, where things collect and begin again...Life is mysterious. I find relevance in the abstract, for in it is the womb of existence."

Kupferman’s work is included in numerous museum collections including the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, British Museum, Brooklyn Museum, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Modern Art, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Fogg Museum, Wadsworth Atheneum, and the Whitney Museum of American Art. Kupferman's papers which are on file with the Archives of American Art include an unpublished historical novel, Beggar's Bread, which chronicles the Boston art scene of the 1930s.

Saratoga Springs Victorian - - 1940, Drypoint.

Edition 100. Signed in pencil.

Image size 13 7/8 x 9 3/4 inches (352 x 248 mm); sheet size 16 15/16 x 13 inches (430 x 330 mm).

A superb impression, in warm black ink, on cream wove paper, with full margins (1 1/4 to 1 3/4 inches), in excellent condition.

Published by Associated American Artists. Purchase Prize, Second Annual National Fine Print Competition.

Collections: Dallas Museum of Fine Art, Fine Arts Museums of San Franscisco, Five Colleges and Historic Deerfield Consortium, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.


European Landscape - - 1942, Drypoint.

Edition 50. Signed, dated, titled, and numbered 7/50 in pencil.

Image size 10 7/8 x 13 3/8 inches (276 x 340 mm); sheet size 13 1/8 x 16 1/2 inches (333 x 419 mm).

A superb, finely articulated impression, on cream wove paper, with full margins (1 to 1 3/4 inches), in excellent condition.

Kupferman's surrealist landscape is a metaphor for the destructive ravages of World War II, an experience he lived through and was deeply affected by.

Collection: Syracuse University Art Museum.


Fantasia Americana – 1880 - - 1943, Drypoint with sandground.

Series A (1971), edition 6. Signed, titled, and annotated Series A, 1971 2/6 in pencil.

Image size 11 13/16 x 14 3/4 inches (300 x 375 mm); sheet size 18 x 20 1/4 inches (457 x 514 mm).

A superb, richly-inked impression, on heavy, cream wove paper, with full margins (2 1/2 to 3 1/2 inches); the paper light struck within the mat opening, otherwise in excellent condition. One of only 6 impressions with the added sandground overall background tint.

Collections: National Gallery of Art, Zimmerli Art Museum (Rutgers University).


De Rerum Natura- - 1954, Ink and encaustic on watercolor paper.

Signed Kupferman in ink, lower right sheet edge. Signed and titled (twice) in ink, verso, and annotated #ED:742.C (the artist’s inventory number) March 1954 and Lucretius, in the artist’s hand.

Image size/sheet size 25 3/8 x 19 1/4 inches (645 x 489 mm).

An exceptionally fine, precisely-nuanced Surrealist abstraction, with fresh, vibrant colors, on heavy watercolor, the image extending to the sheet edges.

De rerum natura (usually translated as On the Nature of Things) is a philosophical epic poem written by the Roman poet Lucretius in Latin around 55 BCE. The poem was lost during the Middle Ages, rediscovered in 1417, and first printed in 1473. Its earliest published translation into any language (French) did not occur until 1650; in English — although earlier partial or unpublished translations exist — the first complete translation to be published was that of Thomas Creech, in heroic couplets, in 1682. A pioneering figure in the history of philosophical poetry, Lucretius has come to be our primary source of information on Epicurean physics, the subject of this poem. Among numerous other Epicurean doctrines, the atomic ‘swerve’ is known to us mainly from Lucretius’ account of it—the unpredictable swerve of atoms, according to Lucretius, provides the "free will which living things throughout the world have." His defence of the Epicurean system is deftly and passionately argued, and is particularly admired for its eloquent critique of the fear of death in book 3. Lucretius' work would have had a special resonance with Kupferman who in his expressionist explorations was concerned with the mystery and essence of life.