Esteban Vicente

Esteban Vicente, a pillar of the New York School, is celebrated for his contributions to Abstract Expressionism. His career, spanning nearly a century and two continents, exemplifies a life dedicated to the pursuit of artistic innovation and excellence.

Born on January 20, 1903, in Turégano, Spain, Esteban Vicente’s childhood was steeped in art. Influenced by his father, an amateur painter, Vicente developed a passion for the arts early on. This passion led him to the Escuela de Bellas Artes de San Fernando in Madrid in 1919, where he initially studied sculpture.

Vicente’s early career blossomed amidst Spain’s “Generation of 1927,” a cultural renaissance fueled by poets, artists, and intellectuals. During his time in Madrid, Vicente formed friendships with notable figures such as Federico García Lorca and Luis Buñuel. His works were published in literary magazines like Mediodía and Verso y Prosa, showcasing his budding talent.

From 1922 to 1924, Vicente traveled extensively, spending summers in Murcia. By 1928, he had moved to Paris, sharing a studio with fellow painter Pedro Flores. It was here that he met Pablo Picasso, who advised him against returning to Spain. Vicente’s first exhibition took place in 1928 at the Ateneo de Madrid.

In 1930, Vicente relocated to Barcelona, where he exhibited his work at Galeries Syra and Galeria Dalmau. His compositions during this period captured the vibrant life of the city, from outdoor cafes to flamenco dancers.

With the Spanish Civil War looming, Vicente decided to immigrate to America. He arrived in New York in 1936, settling in Greenwich Village. In 1937, he became the Vice-Consul of the Republic of Spain in Philadelphia, a position he held until 1939. Despite the political turmoil, Vicente continued to exhibit his work, becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1942.

The 1940s were marked by both personal loss and artistic evolution for Vicente. He divorced his first wife, Estelle, and tragically lost their daughter. These events deeply influenced his work, leading him to explore Cubism. His friendships with New York School artists such as Willem de Kooning and Franz Kline further enriched his artistic development.

In 1950, Vicente set up a studio at 88 East 10th Street in New York, the heart of the downtown art scene. His work was selected for the Talent 1950 exhibition at Kootz Gallery, marking the beginning of a decade of significant exhibitions. He showcased his art at prestigious galleries such as Rose Fried Gallery and Leo Castelli Gallery.

Vicente’s dedication to teaching was unwavering. He held positions at esteemed institutions like Black Mountain College, New York University, Princeton University, and Yale University. He was also a founding faculty member of the New York Studio School of Drawing, Painting, and Sculpture.

In the 1960s, Vicente continued to exhibit his work extensively. He married Harriet Godfrey Peters in 1961, and in 1964, they purchased a property in Bridgehampton, where Vicente converted a barn into his studio.

Throughout his career, Vicente received numerous accolades. He was nominated as an Associate National Academician in 1980 and achieved the rank of National Academician in 1985. In 1991, King Juan Carlos awarded him the Gold Medal of Fine Arts, and in 1998, the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía hosted a major retrospective of his work. The Spanish government also established the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo Esteban Vicente in his honor.

Vicente continued to paint until his final year, passing away on January 10, 2001, in Bridgehampton, NY, at the age of 97. His life and work remain a testament to his enduring dedication to art and the profound impact he had on the world of Abstract Expressionism.

Untitled, 1962

Untitled, 1986