George Ault, Black Night at Russell’s Corners, 1943
George Ault, Bright Lights at Russell’s Corners
George Ault, Daylight at Russell’s Corners, 1944
George Ault’s work is in a traveling exhibition beginning at the Smithsonian Art Museum in D.C. and traveling to the Nelson Atkins, and the Georgia Museum of Art in Athens, Georgia.
It’s easy to see Ault qualifying as an outsider artist. He spent the last 10 years of his life in poverty in Woodstock, NY, in a tiny rented house with no electricity or indoor plumbing. In those years his work becomes defiantly personal and detached from the trends of the larger American art world. Ault was painting in a manner that would have branded him a regionalist. While using Modernist simplification his late work refuses to follow the more conventional subject matter of artists like Charles Sheeler, Ralston Crawford and Charles Demuth. He called skyscrapers “the tombstones of capitalism.” His clinging to rural subject matter, would have put him into the category of “regionalist” or “realist”, both modes of painting the NYC art world had legislated into extinction, clearly doomed Ault along with many others to obscurity. He committed suicide in 1948, drowning himself in Woodstock Creek a few days after Christmas.
Personally I find Ault’s painting far greater an achievement than the precisionist work of Sheeler, Crawford and Demuth–perhaps because I agree with Ault’s definition of skyscapers. No doubt Cezanne would have agreed as well. These days I find myself in agreement with Cezanne.
These few Ault paintings have the kind of enigmatic presence that one feels in di Chrico’s early work. It’s a pity that he ended his life just after reaching the crescendo of his long labor, reminiscent of Arshile Gorky’s tragic suicide.
Ault was born in 1891 and studied at the Slade in London as well as St. John’s Wood School of Art.
Alexander Nemerov of Yale University deserves commendation for bringing the estimable work of Ault to light. I only wish that he hadn’t felt the need to put his work amidst that of others like Rockwell Kent, Wyeth and Hopper. The strength of Ault’s work rests in its distinctive qualities, not its relationship to other realists of his time. His was a singular achievement.