Exposition Art Blog: Painter and art collector Merton Simpson

Painter and art collector Merton Simpson

Merton Daniel Simpson (September 20, 1928 – March 9, 2013)  was an American abstract expressionist painter and African and tribal art collector and dealer.
Simpson enlisted in the Air Force in 1951 and went to Griffiss Air Force Base near Utica, NY for basic training. He did a portrait of base commander General Howell and assigned him to Special Service. Simpson also played in the Air Force Band, but was told that there was a greater need for artists. His title was official Air Force artist and he spent his time in service painting a number of military commanders including Chief of Staff General Twining and General Eisenhower who paid Simpson $100 for painting his portrait. When asked if he wanted to take a commission Simpson said that he wanted to go home to visit his ailing mother where he thought he would be of more use. His wish was granted. Some of his paintings are still on display in the Pentagon.Wikipedia

After four years in the service, Simpson went back to NYU to resume his work. In 1951 his work appeared in an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art and in 1954 his work was displayed in the Younger American Painters exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum. As his reputation grew his artwork made exhibitions at a number of galleries in New York City and even Washington, DC. By 1955 Simpson had a one-person exhibition at the Bertha Schaeffer Gallery. As Simpson became more established in New York he also became interested in the School of Paris and established a residence in the capitol. The new environment had a clear and direct impact on his painting style which previously was greatly shaped by the brush painters of the New York School. Simpson divided his time between Paris and New York where he set up his own gallery in the 1950s. The Merton D. Simpson Gallery of Modern and Tribal Arts is famous for its exceptional collection of Tribal arts, as well as artworks by his contemporaries Romare Bearden, Beauford Delaney, Norman Lewis, Charles Alston, Hale Woodruff and John Biggers, among others.Wikipedia

Simpson was first drawn to African and tribal art after seeing some sculptures that Paul Robeson, Julius Carl Clark and Hale Woodruff had in their personal collections. Simpson purchased his first African carving in 1949. Initially he learned much about African and tribal art by visiting the gallery of Julius Carlebach (art dealer), a dealer in rare items. It was primarily Hale Woodruff's influence that drove Simpson's interest in African Art. Simpson began collecting and dealing modern artists alongside the traditional indigenous works of art from Africa. His early art collection consisted of modern artists whose artwork was influenced by traditional African Art such as Pablo Picasso, Amedeo, Amedeo Modigliani, Alberto Giacometti and Paul Klee to name a few. As his knowledge and experience in the field grew he eventually became known as one of the most prominent dealers of traditional African art in the world and the international art world at large.Wikipedia

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