Iras­ci­ble, moi?

The Daily Telegraph - Review - - FILM -

In 1951, Life mag­a­zine pub­lished a pho­to­graph of 14 men – and one woman – in a stu­dio, star­ing solemnly at the cam­era. They were, as the head­line put it, the “Iras­ci­bles”: the prin­ci­pal play­ers in ab­stract ex­pres­sion­ism, united in their anger about a re­cent sur­vey of con­tem­po­rary paint­ing at the Met­ro­pol­i­tan Mu­seum of Art in New York, which they felt was too re­ac­tionary.

There they all are, the big beasts of 20th-cen­tury

Amer­i­can art: Mark Rothko, smok­ing on a stool in the front row; slick-haired Willem de Koon­ing, glar­ing from the back; and at the cen­tre, the eye of this artis­tic storm, Jack­son Pol­lock, hunched in a chalk-stripe suit.

But who is the fig­ure stand­ing at the far left? Wear­ing a dark shirt and tie and a baggy, dou­ble­breasted jacket, he looks like a movie mob­ster. In fact, he was a bril­liant pain­ter and now the sub­ject of an ex­hi­bi­tion at Ket­tle’s Yard in Cam­bridge, the first de­voted to him in this coun­try. His name was Richard Pousette-Dart (1916-92), and he is the for­got­ten man of ab­stract ex­pres­sion­ism.

“He was a deeply pri­vate, shy, and ex­tremely peace­ful per­son,” says his 71-year-old daugh­ter, Joanna, speak­ing by phone from New York. Not very “iras­ci­ble”, then? She laughs. “No, he was a vege­tar­ian from the time he was 17. And a paci­fist dur­ing the war.”

The el­der of Pousette-Dart’s two chil­dren, Joanna was born in 1947, six years af­ter her fa­ther’s first solo ex­hi­bi­tion. By then, he had em­barked on his third mar­riage – to Joanna’s mother, the poet Eve­lyn Gracey – and they were liv­ing in a cold-wa­ter apart­ment on 56th Street in Man­hat­tan. Barely into his 30s, Pousette-Dart was al­ready at the fore­front of

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