Philip Pearlstein

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Philip Pearlstein
Born (1924-05-24) May 24, 1924 (age 94)
EducationCarnegie Institute of Technology, New York University Institute of Fine Arts
Notable work
AwardsNational Academy Museum and School: Design, Obrig Prize & Lifetime Achievement Awards. Fulbright-Hays Scholarship, Guggenheim Fellowship, Rome Prize

Philip Pearlstein is an influential[1] American painter best known for Modernist Realism nudes. Cited by critics as the preeminent figure painter of the 1960s to 2000s,[2][3][4][5] he led a revival in realist art.[6][7] He is a Distinguished Professor Emeritus with paintings in the collections of over 70 public art museums.


Philip M. Pearlstein was born on May 24, 1924 in Pittsburgh, PA, to David and Libby Kalser Pearlstein. During the Great Depression, his father sold chickens and eggs to support the family.[8] As a child, his parents also supported his interest in art, sending him to Saturday morning classes at Pittsburgh's Carnegie Museum of Art. In 1942, at the age of 18, two of his paintings won a national competition sponsored by Scholastic Magazine,[9] and were reproduced in color in Life magazine.[10]

In 1942, he enrolled at Carnegie Institute of Technology's art school, in Pittsburgh, where he painted two portraits of his parents now held by the Carnegie Museum of Art, but after one year he was drafted by the US Army to serve during World War II. He was initially assigned to the Training Aids Unit at Camp Blanding, Florida, where he produced charts, weapon assembly diagrams and signs. In this role, he learned printmaking and the screenprinting process, and subsequently was stationed in Italy making road signs.[11] While in Italy, he took in as much renaissance art as was accessible in Rome, Florence, Venice and Milan, and also produced numerous drawings depicting life in the Army.[9][12]

In 1946, sponsored by the GI Bill,[12] he returned to Carnegie Institute, and first met Andy Warhol, who was attracted to Pearlstein because of his notoriety in the school, having been featured in Life magazine,[13] as well as fellow student, and future wife, Dorothy Cantor. During the summer of 1947, the three rented a barn as a summer studio. Immediately after graduating in June 1949 with a BFA, Pearlstein and Warhol moved to New York City, at first sharing an eighth-floor walkup tenement apartment on St. Mark's Place at Avenue A.[14][15] He was eventually hired by Czech designer Ladislav Sutnar, mainly doing industrial catalog work, while Warhol immediately found work illustrating department store catalogs.[12] In April 1950, they moved to 323 W. 21st Street, into an apartment rented by Franziska Marie Boas, who ran a dance class on the other side of the room.[16] During this time, Pearlstein painted a portrait of Warhol, now held by the Whitney Museum of American Art.[17]

Male and Female Nudes with Red and Purple Drape, 1968, Hirschhorn Museum

In 1950, Philip Pearlstein married Dorothy Cantor, with Andy Warhol in the wedding party. The Pearlsteins moved to East 4th Street, taking over an apartment from fellow figure painter Lester Johnson, and Philip enrolled in the Masters in Art History program at New York University Institute of Fine Arts. His thesis was on artist Francis Picabia, evaluating Cubism, Abstract art, Dada and Surrealism, graduating in 1955.[11]

After graduation, he was hired by Life Magazine to do page layouts, and was then awarded a Fulbright Hays fellowship, enabling him to return to Italy for a year, where he painted a series of landscapes.[12] From 1959 to 1963, he was an instructor at Pratt Institute, in Brooklyn, NY, and subsequently spent a year as a Visiting Critic at Yale University in New Haven, CT. Finally, from 1963 to 1988, he was Professor, and then Distinguished Professor Emeritus at Brooklyn College, in Brooklyn, NY.[18][19]

The Pearlsteins have three adult children,[15] of which two daughters were the subjects of several painting he made in the 1960s,[20] and the couple lives on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, New York City, NY.[21]


During the 1950s Pearlstein exhibited abstract expressionist landscape paintings.[22] Around 1958 he began to attend weekly figure drawing sessions at the studio of Mercedes Matter.[22] In 1961 Pearlstein began to make paintings of nude couples based upon his drawings, and in 1962 he began painting directly from the model in a less painterly and more realistic style. In so doing, he demonstrated that figurative realism could once again be made into a vital art form. In an article published in Arts Magazine in April, 1963, Sidney Tillim wrote that "[Pearlstein] has not only regained the figure for painting; he has put it behind the plane and in deep space without recourse to nostalgia (history) or fashion (new images of man) ... He paints the nude not as a symbol of beauty and pure form but as a human fact—implicitly imperfect".[22]

Pearlstein's early landscape paintings—usually rock-strewn hillsides in which every angle, shadow, and shape was seen with a clinical clarity—foreshadow his treatment of the nude as a natural phenomenon devoid of any identity other than the attributes of sex and skin color. Before modernism, painting and sculpture presented the human body in every conceivable pose and situation sanctioned by history, religion, or mythology, but the twentieth century brought a new method of comprehending what we see as form for its own sake. In Pearlstein's paintings, the human body, placed in a corner of a floodlighted studio, assumes a new range of plastic realities, as the mass and weight of the body are emphasized in the unstudied character of the pose. The point of view frequently results in radical cropping of the figure at the edge of the canvas. The painting Models With Mirror is an example of Pearlstein's concern for the body as form.

Pearlstein's work is in over seventy museums collections in the United States, including the Art Institute of Chicago, The Cleveland Museum of Art, the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Museum of Modern Art and Whitney Museum of American Art amongst others. The Milwaukee Art Museum honored him with a retrospective exhibition in 1983 and accompanied the exhibition with a monograph on his complete paintings. He recently showed at the Century Association, New York; Frye Art Museum, Seattle; Galerie Haas, Zurich; and Galerie Haas & Fuchs, Berlin, Germany.

Since the mid-1950s Pearlstein has received several awards, most recently, the National Council of Arts Administrators Visual Artist Award; The Benjamin West Clinedinst Memorial Medal, The Artists Fellowship, Inc., New York, NY; and honorary doctorate degrees from Brooklyn College, NY, Center for Creative Studies and the College of Art & Design, Detroit, MI, and New York Academy of Arts, New York, NY. Pearlstein is a former President of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. In 1988 he was elected into the National Academy of Design. He is represented by the Betty Cuningham Gallery.


  1. ^ "New York Times, Jan. 6, 2009 - It Is What It Is: Portraits of the Human Figure, By Ken Johnson".
  2. ^ History of Modern Art, by H.H. Aranson, 1986.
  3. ^ Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, Dec 1., 1984 - Selections from the Permanent Collection, by Terry Ann R. Neff.
  4. ^ Jewish American Painters in the Twentieth Century by Ori Soltes, 2003.
  5. ^ "Lehigh University, Feb. 14, 2006 - Lehigh Art Gallery Exhibit Overview, by Linda Harbrecht".
  6. ^ "New York Times, Oct. 19, 2008 - The Week Ahead, by Ken Johnson".
  7. ^ "Pratt Institute, Pratt Top Icon Biography - Philip Pearlstein".
  8. ^ "New York Times - Topic Page: Philip Pearlstein".
  9. ^ a b "American Artist Magazine, Mar. 7, 2008 - Beyond Drawing Basics: Philip Pearlstein's Unrelenting Gaze, by John A. Parks". Archived from the original on 2014-04-10. Retrieved 2013-01-19.
  10. ^ Life, June 16, 1941, pp. 56-57, “Youngest Generation of American Artists Holds Whopping Good Show at Pittsburgh.”
  11. ^ a b "National Gallery of Art - Philip M. Pearlstein Biography". Archived from the original on 2012-12-13.
  12. ^ a b c d "The Brooklyn Rail, Sep. 2005 - Philip Pearlstein In Conversation with Phong Bui".
  13. ^ "Philip Pearlstein interview re Andy Warhol".
  14. ^ "New York Times, Apr. 24, 2008 - New York cool: A transitional generation is given its due, by Karen Rosenberg".
  15. ^ a b "New York Times, May 24, 2002 - IN THE STUDIO WITH; Real Flesh, Not Perfect Or Prurient, by Michael Kimmelman".
  16. ^ "Truman Capote interview re Andy Warhol".
  17. ^ "Whitney Museum Artist Page - Philip Pearlstein".
  18. ^ "Michael Berger Gallery, Biography of Philip Pearlstein".
  19. ^ "Brooklyn College, School of Visual, Media and Performing Arts Overview, citing Professor Pearlstein".
  20. ^ New York Magazine, Dec. 16, 1968 - Style of the Year: The Inhumanists, by Rosalind Constable.
  21. ^ "New York Observer, Aug. 14, 2012 - Realist Painter Philip Pearlstein Leaving Longtime UWS Townhouse for $3.4M, by Kim Velsey".
  22. ^ a b c Pearlstein 1970 (unpaginated)


  • Pearlstein, P. (1970). Philip Pearlstein. Georgia: Georgia Museum of Art.

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