Ernest Fiene “Tabula Smaragdina” 1940 Surrealist oil on canvas SOLD P659

This is a surprising work from this important populist muralist and figurative painter of the American scene, though perhaps not unusual for an artist who experimented with so many styles. It is Surrealist, Modern, French-influenced, hallucinatory, and mysterious, and most certainly fluent and assured. When one looks at Ernest Fiene’s biography one starts to understand it more deeply. Fiene had received much of his most formative training in Paris and had maintained close friendships with many of the greatest French modern artists (Braque, Matisse, Derain…): 1940 was the year of the Nazi occupation of his beloved France. Here is a tribute to his friends and colleagues, to that brilliant explosion of modern art about to be suppressed by the long desperate night of this second World War just beginning. In other words, this painting is a sincere hommage.

The very title affirms the principle of mystery: The Tabula Smaragdina, or The Secret of Hermes, is an ancient text purporting to reveal the secret of “the primordial substance and its transmutations”. The compact and cryptic text was highly regarded by European alchemists as the foundation of their art… Well, well. Mysterious indeed. Obfuscatory perhaps. Sounding a note of Dada humor definitely. And very lovely.

Art measures: canvas 21″ x 26″, frame 28″ x 32″.

Ernest Fiene (1894-1965) was born in Elberfeld, Germany, came to the United States in 1912. He studied at the National Academy of Design from 1914 to 1918, at the Beaux-Arts Institute of Design from 1916 to 1918, and was also at the Art Students League and in Paris at the Academie de la Grande Chaumiere, and was naturalized by 1927, having already built his reputation as a painter of American scenes. A fixture on the faculty of the Art Students League, he was also a prolific artist with a body of work spanning many media, from etchings to frescoes. Ernest Fiene created works in many media and experimented with many styles, but was noted primarily for his deeply felt landscapes, New york cityscapes and figural works.  He also executed murals and book illustrations.

During 1928-29, Ernest Fiene lived in Paris, where he rented the studio of the painter Jules Pascin and continued his training at the Académie de la Grande Chaumiére.  His early work was influenced by Post-Impressionism, as well as by the example of Old Masters such as Rembrandt and Daumier.  In 1932, Ernest Fiene received a Guggenheim fellowship that allowed him to travel to Italy, where he studied mural painting.  Ernest Fiene fraternized with many of the leading artists of the day, ranging from School of Paris painters such as Georges Braque and André Derain to American Modernists such as Stuart Davis.  He also knew Henri Matisse, who once called him “America’s most representative painter.” Ernest Fiene was likewise friendly with the Regionalist Thomas Hart Benton, with whom he exchanged many letters.

From 1938 to 1964, he taught at the Art Students League and was also a member of the supervising faculty of the Famous Artists School in Westbury, Connecticut.

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