Premier local artist Jean Meisel made a generous donation to the Clinical Center this winter of 13 large works, half of which hang in the Magnuson’s Building new main corridor.

Meisel1Early last year Meisel mentioned to a contact at a Washington, DC, gallery that she had a wealth of paintings she’d like to share with those who couldn’t get out to see them and was told of the CC collection. Curator Lillian Fitzgerald visited Meisel’s Chevy Chase farmhouse and chose works she felt would fit the aesthetic of the hospital and create a cohesive showing. The oil paintings join the CC permanent collection, with seven works in the main corridor and six in the Hatfield Building’s fifth floor south wing.

The two groupings of Meisel’s work show a progression in her creative process. The artist studied English at the University of Michigan and did not start painting professionally until she moved to Georgetown with her young family in 1958. With three children, Meisel balanced motherhood with her work as a painter and a photographer, housing her dark room in the family’s downstairs bathroom. She grew quite successful, selling a number of her creations to corporate buyers and showing with The Washington Arts Museum, a non-profit to support local artists, and at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Meisel2A great source of inspiration for Meisel as her career progressed was the Phillips Collection in DC and particularly the works of abstract artists Milton Avery and Nicolas de Staël. “The complicated and interesting colors, simple shapes …” Meisel said. “It was just gorgeous. I thought, ‘I want to do that.'” Her work went from land and seascapes to color-blocks.

After studying three early Italian painters—Giotto, Fra Angelico, and Piero della Francesca—Meisel’s work echoed the dark colors and architectural elements (abstract posts, checkerboards) of those premier artists. “I tried to convey that same sense of reverence and worth,” she said.

The pieces from this era of Meisel’s career—done in the 1970s—stand four-to-six feet high and just as wide. “If you had something to say, you were going to go big,” the artist said.

Her newer works play with black, a color Meisel sees not as depressing, but rather rich and distinguished. She has united her previous subjects, taking natural shapes from her landscape and seascape days and pairing them with the geometric forms.

Her artist’s statement explains: “Every day of our lives we are astounded by the glorious and mysterious objects and events in the natural world. In my paintings I isolate shapes and colors and simplify what I see—rocks, leaves, skies, shells—in the hope that the viewer, like the painter, can apprehend these miracles with new eyes.”

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