Ellen Lanyon Fregene (1962)
Oil on Canvas 69.0 x 66.0 x 0.0
University Club of Chicago

Lanyon fregene 1962

Lanyon was born in Chicago and studied at the School of The Art Institute of Chicago. Early influences included the art historian Kathleen Blackshear and the Institute's collection of early Sienese paintings. Under a Fulbright scholarship she studied at the Courtauld Institute in London.

Her first exhibitions in the early 1950's were at the Fairweather-Hardin Gallery and later with B.C.Holland and Richard Gray. Lanyon was a key organizer of the women-artist's group W.E.B. (West East Coast Bag) in the early 1970's. She and her husband, Roland Ginzel, moved to New York in 1985.

Fregene (1962) is from a period of time when Lanyon was traveling and painting figures versus working on her animal and environment artworks. In this work, a symmetrical harmony of multiple female swimmers, or bathers, lie in a circle as they support an oversized beach ball atop their feet. The title references a well-known beach town in Italy, and the work comes from a period when Lanyon was traveling in Italy on a Fulbright grant and painting swimmers, sun- bathers, and athletes.

The unit of figures almost fills the canvas and their bodies are close to touching every edge. They lie across a pale off-white space that offers little detail regarding their location or context. The horizon line is high across the canvas, where a muted deep blue skyline meets the pale white of the ground. In the lower center of the canvas, the female figures lie on their backs with their legs and feet pointed upward and their arms outstretched and interlocked, which emphasizes the circular shape of their formation. A source of light cascades from the upper left of the composition, which highlights the left side of the formation and washes out the women’s features and skin tone to almost the exact color of the ground upon which they lie.

The figures in the lower center and lower right of the composition are partially in shadow, and the hot dark purple, gray, deep yellow, and brown tones of their bodies emphasize the overall warmth and intensity of the light.  Each of the seven women turns her head outward towards the viewer, as if they are all looking back. But, the majority of their features are barely visible and primarily abstracted into general shapes that imply facial features.

This composition, along with the overall tone and formation of their bodies, implies a unified anonymity of the figures: they are individuals and yet they are a collective group. Fregene is different than Lanyon’s better-known Hyper-realistic artworks, and emphasizes her use of color to evoke the hot light of the Italian summer sun across a circle of synchronized swimmers.

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