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The Lafayette

The Oldest College Newspaper in Pennsylvania

The Lafayette

The Oldest College Newspaper in Pennsylvania

The Lafayette

A tribute to an old pal

Professor Robert Mattison creates exhibition of friend’s art
Photo by Ari Ismail for The Lafayette
Professor Robert Mattison wrote a book about Grace Hartigan in 1990.

One of art professor Robert Mattison’s first exhibitions when he joined Lafayette in 1983 was on close friend and artist Grace Hartigan. In a full circle moment, Mattison has chosen to do his final exhibition before retiring on her work once more.

Mattison and Hartigan maintained a 30-year friendship after they met for the first time in Baltimore. There, he was able to see much of Hartigan’s work and managed to get her work in an exhibition at Lafayette.

“Out of all the artists I’ve worked with — there’s some really major ones — she’s the longest relationship I had … She really was a model for me of artistic integrity [and of] someone who was totally dedicated to their art,” Mattison said.

Hartigan became widely known for her work in the 1950s, a period dominated by male artists in the abstract expressionist movement, a type of art characterized by gestural brush strokes or marks. Mattison’s exhibition on Hartigan is titled, “Great Women.”

One of the paintings featured in the exhibition is a picture of Queen Elizabeth I when she was a princess, which was gifted to Mattison by Hartigan when he published his book on her. Many other paintings include interpretations of famous women such as Jane Seymour, Joan of Arc, Sarah Bernhardt and women of the Amazon.

“It’s a way of asserting the role of women, of being creative and inventing a kind of theme and [the exhibition] became a way to investigate that,” Mattison said.

“She always insisted that she was always treated as an equal by the painters, by the men, because she was so dedicated to her work. [She was] sometimes not treated as equals by collectors, museum curators and those sort of people,” Mattison said. “She began to create works that had to do with female heroes throughout history.”

Mattison went on to write 14 pieces on Hartigan as well as curate exhibitions with her work in locations like New York and Europe. He then published a book titled “Grace Hartigan: A Painter’s World” in 1990 which explores her whole career. Hartigan and Mattison also worked on many projects together before her passing in 2008. 

Hartigan hosted four exhibitions at Lafayette and studied with Ed Kerns, former head of the art department. Her painting “Feast of Vengeance” was gifted to the college upon her passing. 

“Exhibitions are really important because they get the objects together and [students] get to see them,” Mattison said.

There will be a round table discussion about Hartigan on Thursday, October 19 at 4:30 p.m. in Williams 108. Several people, from close friends to a Lafayette alum who did her thesis on Hartigan, will be there to lead the conversation.

“Grace Hartigan: Great Women” will be on display now until November 12 in the Williams Center for the Arts.

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About the Contributors
McKenna Graf
McKenna Graf, Staff Culture Writer
Ari Ismail
Ari Ismail, Staff Photographer

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