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The Art of JAMA
March 5, 2014

Slaughterhouse Ruins at AledoGertrude Abercrombie

JAMA. 2014;311(9):884-885. doi:10.1001/jama.2013.279362

By all accounts, the American painter Gertrude Abercrombie (1909-1997) was one of a kind. She wore a pointy hat and drove a Rolls-Royce automobile that she could not afford. She was unabashedly egocentric; her paintings, she said, were all about herself and her inner life. The images were dreamy and mysterious: a woman running through the woods at night, a girl with an owl, a swimming horse, a ruined slaughterhouse … simple and a little strange, she said. Her icons were ladders, cats, and brooms. She drank heavily and entertained often, hosting all-night jam sessions in her home. She was self-critical and often had the blues, but her friends, a misfit assortment of writers and itinerant musicians, found her enchanting. The jazz pianist Richie Powell based the rhythm of his composition "Gertrude's Bounce" on the way she walked (a 1956 recording by the Clifford Brown/Max Roach Quintet featuring Powell on piano can be found at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uNFlZVcXY6Y), and the novelist James Purdy modeled the title character of his novel Gertrude of Stony Island Avenue on her larger-than-life persona.

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