Jennifer Bartlett


Jennifer Bartlett was an American artist who created Rhapsody, a work that many art critics called, “one of the greatest masterpieces of 20th century art.”


Early life and Education

Jennifer Losch Bartlett was born in Long Beach California in 1941. She was the oldest of four children. Her father was an entrepreneur. His main business was a pipeline construction company. Her mother worked as a fashion illustrator before the children were born.


Bartlett began drawing at a young age. She received a BA from Mills College in Oakland in 1963 and went on to study at Yale, where her teachers included Josef Albers, Jim Dine and Richard Serra. Bartlett received her MFA from Yale in 1965.


Career and Personal Life

Bartlett moved to New York after graduation and, influenced by the minimalist work of Sol LeWitt, who worked on graph paper, began to create works that were constructed in mathematical, grid-like style with simple subjects like homes and gardens.


Because graph paper was flimsy, Bartlett looked for a sturdier material on which to work. The metal signs on the New York subway, which withstood a lot of punishment, inspired her to work on metal.


She hired a metal fabrication shop in New Jersey to create the squares that she worked on during much of her career. The squares were 12-inch steel plates, covered with a white appliance baked enamel surface, silk screened and epoxied with a light grey grid and a small hole in the corner of each square for hanging.


Bartlett used 987 squares to create Rhapsody, her groundbreaking work that covered more than 150 feet of wall space. The work was shown at art dealer Paula Cooper’s gallery in Manhattan in 1976 and bought by art collector Edward R. Broida, who donated it to MoMA.


The images she painted on the squares are both representational and abstract. The themes across the work are orderly and represent seven themes: Introduction, Mountain, Line, House, Tree, Shape, and Ocean.


Bartlett worked in series, often from direct observation of the houses, streets and gardens that she was most familiar with. In 2012, when she was a patient in a New York hospital with ‘an undiagnosed illness’, she created a series of Hospital paintings. They were of long corridors and window views that she observed. There are no figures in the works, but each has the word Hospital painted in white and a line of paint transversing the canvas.


Her works are included in the permanent collections of The Met, The Guggenheim, MoMA, the National Gallery in Washington, D.C., the Tate London and many other major venues.


Bartlett was married to Ed Bartlett from 1964 to 1972. They met at Yale where he studied medicine. After their divorce, Bartlett taught at the School of Visual Arts. In 1983, she married German actor Mathieu Carrière. The couple had a daughter. They divorced in 1993. Jennifer Bartlett died on July 25, 2022 at her home in Amagansett, New York. She was 81.


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