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ON WITH THE SHOW

Audrey Buller’s debut exhibition was May of 1929 at the G.R.D Studios in New York City.[156] The New York Times stated “her work is so bold and so all together striking that it rather pales the three other exhibitors”. [157] The article further described her hyper- realistic style integrating the elements that shift it from realism to Magic realism.

Indeed, realism is greatly outdistanced. The same thing seems to happen in these paintings that happens when you look at a double photograph through the venerable stereoscope. Objects stand out sharply, each in its given plane; and yet, somehow, you are always aware that you are not looking upon life…. this is work of high technical merit; powerful work, in which humor, or at least a cynicism at once suave and biting, plays no small part.[158]    

Regarding specific paintings, the reviewer wrote Woman With Negro Sculpture “Whose pose is quaintly indecent”…Girl with cigarette Case “more proper but equally quaint … Harry Binsse- “Whose cigarette you would almost ask to borrow for a light”.[159]  This exhibition showed that although Buller was influenced by Miller’s teachings that she was also creating her own style.

Remembering that Miss Buller is a pupil of Kenneth Hayes Miller’s you say: “oh, yes, of course, that would account for the depth, the volume”. As a matter of fact these pictures contain surprisingly little of the teacher’s personal style (which proves that Miss Buller is standing on her own feet), though they do contain the essence of his teaching.[160]

Following the great success of her first exhibition, Audrey Buller wed Lloyd Parsons on 3 October 1929 in London, England.[161] Lloyd Holman Parsons, was the first child born to parents Allan Parsons and Maude Holman 2 February 1893.[162] He was baptized 3 June 1893 at Anglican at Hudson Heights.[163]  Lloyd received a degree from McGill University in architecture.[164] He served during WWI with the 66th Battery Canadian Field Artillery. [165] He also served with the British Royal Air Corps as a 2nd Lieutenant R.F.C. (Royal Flying Corps).[166] While on a bombing mission over France in 1918, he was shot down and wounded, ending his military career.[167] After being injured Lloyd studied in Paris for a year and then moved to New York to attend the Art Students League.[168] He attended the League from 1920-1924.[169]

Audrey and Lloyd had planned on going on a one- year honeymoon though Europe. However, with the crash of the stock market they had to cut their honeymoon short and return to New York.[170] They lived in Greenwich Village, a hub for young artists, at 147 West Fourth Street.[171] Audrey and Lloyd shared a studio together from 1930-1940 overlooking Washington Square.[172] They would paint side by side, at times even painting the same subject, i.e. Prentice Shethar or Mac Kennedy. Sometimes they helped one another, other times so engrossed in their work forgetting that the other was there.

Mother and daddy used to paint together in their studio. They were much focused when they painted. One time daddy finished up for the night, cleaned his brushes and left locking the door behind him. It wasn’t until he heard Mother holler “Lloyd” that he realized that he had locked her in the studio. [173]

Their daughters say that their parents were very supportive of one another and were each other’s best critic. [174]

In 1931, the Museum of Modern Art held a show “Modern German Painting and Sculpture” including three New Objectivity/ Magic Realist painters Otto Dix, George Crosz, and Georg Schrimpf. [175] The German show “may have challenged Buller to move even further away from her mentor.”[176]

Buller had exhibitions at the Rhen Gallery, in New York, in 1932 and the following year.[177] Art critic, Edward Alden Jewell wrote of the first show “one cannot recall ever seeing anything in art more stereoscopically three dimensional than Miss Buller’s pictures” [178]  The second show at the Rhen was her first “one man show”.[179]  The journal Art News praised her work, “She manages to state her case with a conviction that gives a decided dignity and individuality to her scenes”. [180]

The New Objectivity exhibition corresponds with Buller’s ultimate departure from Miller in works from her 1933 Rhen Gallery exhibition. One of those paintings, Before the Masquerade, on the surface is much like Woman with Negro Sculpture yet, the palette and sense of space have both expanded. The remarkable packing of the scenery colors on the sofa, dress and pillow are a powerful triadic combination. The floor’s complementary scheme increases the intensity of the palate and creates a vast spatial quality that is less naturalistic. The crispness of the distant objects is far more in accord with New Objectivity than with the lessons of the Renaissance Miller would have professed”.[181]

Before The Masquerade.jpg

Figure 24. Before The Masquerade,1933

Many women participated in the arts for hobby, but it was not common for a woman to pursue painting as a career in the 1920’s and 1930’s.[182] This is supported by articles written about Buller’s exhibitions.  In 1931 the G.R.D hosted a Mr. and Mrs. Show, where artists exhibited a portrait of their spouse. There were 19 portraits done of wives but, just three done of husbands.[183] Both Audrey and Lloyd were in the show depicting a smaller phenomenon of spouses who were both painters. In 1933, Edward Alden Jewell wrote an article discussing woman painters using their maiden names decoding several names for the reader including, Audrey Buller as Mrs. Lloyd Parsons.[184] Katherine Schmidt explained the reasons she and her sister kept their maiden names professionally “both of us kept our maiden name -- not that it was a particularly interesting one but it was ours.”[185]  In a 1935 Feragil Gallery show in which Buller exhibited, eighteen artists were represented, four of whom were female.[186] There appears to be surprise in 1937 by Buller’s accomplishments “A Woman painter, Audrey Buller, won the coveted Thomas R. Proctor portrait prize of $200 for Lucy Sewing.”[187] Audrey Buller took a less traveled path, as she traveled through Europe on her own, she attended the Art Students League, she established her own career, and continued painting for almost ten years after being married before having children.[188] Nancy Cott writes that for a wife to have economic independence during that time was considered “radical”. [189]

In 1935 and 1936 Audrey held two shows at the Feragil Gallery, the latter being her second “one man show”.[190] Her friend, Reginald Marsh wrote the foreword to the show “Everywhere in these paintings is luxury. There is a wit and a fine, fat magnificence …Miss Buller has painted this clean opulent world with terrible power”.[191] Howard Devree of the New York Times said “The artist had lovingly brushed these creamy-skinned nudes and the rich fabrics on which they rest or which fabrics on which her sitters for portraits wear. There is a meticulous attention to details of texture and design, which constitutes evidence of mature craftsmanship. Her work is so intellectualized and studied that even the wine glass spilled on a side table seems neat and posed. But her color and sense of finished surfaces are admirable”.[192] But not all the reviews were flattering. A description of Sunday Morning read as follows;

A lush hangover atmosphere pervades the lady; the details surrounding her are unnecessary and irrelevant to painting interest” and of Dorothy Goulet “a solid portrait of a plump girl clad elaborately in wine red velvet and fur. If the artist’s baldness of color and tendency to include extraneous matter were controlled, her art would profit.[193] 

     

Figure 25. Sunday Morning, c. 1936

There were many objects or symbols placed carefully in each of her paintings.  “Associative meanings abound but, none are absolute, nor are they intended to be.”[194] . Examples include, mirrors, double hinges doorways, and religious icons.

Buller’s daughter Penelope believes that her mother used religious symbols because she was attracted to the beauty of religious icons and vestments. She was also interested in the contrasts between sacred and profane, and may have utilized the juxtaposition of stark nudity and religious motif to increase recognition of the sensual aspects of the model used in her setting. At the same time, the play with doors and mirrors can symbolize layers of psychological consciousness. Buller’s painting thereby simultaneously heightens awareness at various levels: perceptual, spiritual, sexual, but resists literal interpretations.”[195]

 

On occasion she used an eerie subject as the singular focus for her painting with smaller objects pointedly placed. One wonderful example of this is The Christ Child, 1949.

Miss Buller never offends even when she ventures upon such a dangerous topic as a study of a Baroque statue of a Christ Child- the kind of Christ Child that only a peasant could adore and which cultivated people, such as Miss Buller, accept for its quaintness- but she insists so firmly and so successfully upon the quaintness that the danger passes and all is well, and even the truly pious will see no harm in the picture. But it was a narrow escape.” [196]

Figure 26.  The Christ Child, 1949

Lloyd Parsons was having great success as a painter as well. A landscape and portrait artist, he exhibited at the Art Museum of the Rhode Island school of Design, the Carnegie Institute, Chicago Art Institute, Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia, the Metropolitan Museum of Fine Arts, and the National Academy of design in New York, Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington. [197] The Whitney Museum of American Art has his painting “Chipman’s Creek” in their permanent collection.[198]

In the following years great changes happened for Audrey and Lloyd. On 17 February 1938 their first daughter Audrey Jane Penelope Parsons was born in New York City.[199] The following year Audrey’s mother Jean Hamilton Buller passed away on 21 April 1939.[200] Her funeral service was held at Anglican St. George Church in Montreal, and she was interred at Mount Royal Cemetery, Montreal. [201] In 1940 Audrey purchased a summer home for them on West Main Road in Little Compton, Newport, Rhode Island.[202] Jennifer Lloyd Buller Parsons joined the family in New York City on 6 July 1941.[203] The family moved to their Rhode Island home shortly after Jennifer’s birth. “It was supposed to be their summer place. Due to the war and having Jennifer they made it their full time residence.”[204] Audrey and Lloyd had been introduced to Little Compton by their friend Lloyd Goodrich.[205] He has been credited as the driving force behind nine artists from the Art Students League moving to the small New England coastal town. It must have been the combination of great friendships, a picturesque setting, and the fragrance of roses and sea air that inspired them all to move. Audrey and Lloyd remodeled a section of the second floor, adding large paned windows to capture the shadowless northern light for their new studio.[206]  Both Audrey and Lloyd continued to paint side by side. 

Fig 27. Home of Parsons Family

Jennifer Sims and Penelope Harris spoke of their household glowingly.

My memories are of two who made beauty out of everything they touched. The house was unlike any other in Little Compton… opulently filled with antiques, Victorian papier mache and mother of pearl, empire couches, Louis XV chairs, Aubusson rugs, and shimmering chandeliers. Every Christmas the house was festooned with Mylar chains, court jesters, and circus horses all made by mother and father. The old fashioned feather tree was so covered with ornaments you couldn’t see the tree. It became the most beautiful glittering jewel. My father was an avid gardener and mother kept the house full of fragrant and lavish floral arrangements that had her extraordinary sense of style. Meals were also festive--- good food, good wine and candlelight whether it was the whole family or just mother and father. And conversation was lively, often boisterous, and great fun! As children and even as adults we knew our parents were different. They created magic all around them.[207]

 

To their daughters, they spoke little of their careers as painters nor did they teach them how to paint. Both children said that their parents did not want them to become artists. Audrey and Lloyd spoke little of their shows. Penny recalled that her mother was modest and principled she “did not want to curry favor”.  She felt that her work should stand for itself and she should not have to promote it. Once during a show at the Whitney Museum, Audrey and Lloyd hid from the Director of the museum as he looked at her work.[208] “Isabel Bishop had once told mommy you are by far the most talented of all of us but you weren’t hungry enough”.[209] She interpreted this statement to mean that she didn’t promote herself enough.  

Audrey Buller’s career continued to grow. In addition to having exhibitions in galleries, Buller began to be included in shows hosted by museums. She was included in 8 biennial exhibitions at the Whitney Museum of American Art.[210] Her work was also shown at The Chicago Art Institute and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Both the Whitney and the Met purchased paintings of hers for their permanent collections.[211]

Figure 28. Morning Glories, 1936

The trend in New York art was moving towards abstract modernism. Contemporaries such as Jackson Pollack were pushing the edge of the definition of art. The excitement for this movement may have diminished the attention and favor for the magic realists.  Audrey in a letter to her former teacher Schnakenberg wrote,

The critics were so rude- so unseeing- they have no eyes for objective painting just now- they dismiss it all as realism- nothing more- and how meager that would be if that was all there was to it. Art is not just fashion- but it is treated just as lightly as that, the thing of the moment as the only thing, and everything else is discarded as dull and of no interest or value- oh it irks me to distraction.[212]

 

Despite of the popularity of the abstract movement, the center of contemporary art, The Museum of Modern Art, felt it important to host an enormous show representing Realism and Magic Realism.  This show was the pinnacle of Audrey Buller’s career.

On 10 February, 1943 The Museum of Modern Art hosted the exhibition “American Realists and Magic Realists”.[213]  The show included a retrospective of past works and twenty eight one man shows.[214] The MOMA catalog described the exhibition  by saying, “It is a frank cool art, hardly ever soft or dusky… the chill of exact delineation is not necessarily harsh. There is a tenderness of the surgeon’s capable hand, an icy affection from a complete knowledge of the subject”[215]  This reference brings to mind the adept skill of Dr. Frank Buller being genetically passed down to his daughter. In the catalog for the show Audrey Buller wrote of her technique:

Technically my method of painting is first to do a very careful and detailed drawing with a hard pencil on very smooth canvas. I then cover the canvas with a thin veil of umber on which I build up the entire surface as a bas relief in an underpainting of black and white. I then glaze clear transparent color over the forms, working opaques into the glazes. My aim is to give as much weight and simplicity as possible to my main forms, using color and detailed ornament as an extension of the basic form and as immediate and simple avenues of contact with the senses.[216]

 

There were 260 paintings filling all the galleries on the second floor.[217] “The exhibition could continue on and on, almost indefinitely, without fatiguing us” exalted the New York Times.[218]  Art Digest reported “The NEW SHOW at the Museum of Modern Art should forever silence those who claim that what’s the matter with artists nowadays is that they can’t draw, can’t finish a picture, are not learned in their craft like the old master”.[219] “Buller’s painting thereby simultaneously heightens awareness at various levels: perceptual, spiritual, sexual, but resists literal interpretations.”[220]

Figure 29. From The Sea, c.1933

 

The Association of Historians of American Art highlighting that Audrey Buller and Z. Vanessa Helder were the only female painters included in the exhibition wrote, “With its towering blooms that dwarf the landscape, Buller’s ‘Canterbury Bells’ animates nonhuman things in uncanny ways.”[221]

Figure 30. Canterbury Bells, 1938

Upon arriving at eleven West 53rd street, Audrey and Lloyd entered the Museum of Modern Art. Together they ascended the staircase to the second floor. She stood tall, an elegant brunette next to her slender silver haired husband. In the corner she spotted Edward Hopper talking with Andrew Wyeth.[222] Audrey removed her gloves and placed them in her black velvet purse.  As Lloyd squeezed her hand lovingly, they entered the exhibition.

 

 

American realists and magic realists.png

Figure 31. Americans 1943 Realists and Magic Realist Exhibition

[156] “OUTDISTANCING REALISM: Miss Buller's Voice Dominates in G.R.D., May 26, 1929.

[157] New York Times May 26, 1929.

[158] New York Times May 26, 1929

[159] New York Times May 26, 1929.

[160] New York Times May 26, 1929.

[161]Marriage Index for “Audrey Buller”, marriage months October, November, December, 1929, England and Wales Marriage Index (-2005) Ancestry.com. England & Wales, Marriage Index, 1916-2005 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010. Accessed March 6, 2013; National Archives at Boston; Waltham, Massachusetts; ARC Title: Petitions and Records of Naturalization, 2/1842- ca. 1991; NAI Number: 3432872; Record Group Title: Records of District Courts of the United States, 1685-2009; Record Group Number: RG21.

[162]“Baptism record for Lloyd Parsons” born 2, February 1893, baptized 3, June 1893 Hudson Heights Church. Accessed 5/24/13. http//:ancestry.com. Quebec, Vital and Church Records (Drouin Collection), 1621-1967 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc., 2008.

[163] “Baptism record for Lloyd Parsons” born 2, February 1893, baptized 3, June 1893 Hudson Heights Church. Accessed 5/24/13. http//:ancestry.com. Quebec, Vital and Church Records (Drouin Collection), 1621-1967 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc., 2008.

[164] "Lloyd Parsons, 75, Painter, Architect," New York Times (1923-Current File), Feb 15, 1968 accessed March 10, 2013, http://search.proquest.com/docview/118427324?accountid=14784.;Oral interview with Jennifer Sims.

[165] “Attestation Papers for Lloyd Holman Parsons,” Ancestry.com. Canada, Soldiers of the First World War, 1914-1918 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2006. Images are used with the permission of Library and Archives Canada (Accessed March 12, 2013).; Atwater, 13.

[166] “Royal Aero Club Aviator Certificate for Lloyd Holman Parsons”, Ancestry.com. Great Britain, Royal Aero Club Aviators’ Certificates, 1910-1950 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc., 2008. Original data: Royal Aero Club. Royal Aero Club index cards and photographs are in the care of the Royal Air Force Museum, Hendon, London, England. (Accessed November 26, 2012).; New York Times, February 15, 1968.

[167]New York Times February, 15, 1968.; Atwater, 13.

[168]New York Times February 15, 1968.

[169] “Registration Papers for Lloyd Parsons at the Art students League”, 1920-21 #14838, 1921 # 1702, 1921-22 # 2482, 1923-24 #902, 1924 #850.

[170] Oral interview with Jennifer Sims.

[171] 1930 U.S. Federal Census, Year: 1930; Census Place: Manhattan, New York, New York; Roll: 1558; Page: 11A; Enumeration District: 243; Image: 159.0; FHL microfilm: 2341293.; Wheeler and Lussier,39.

[172]New York Times, February 15, 1968.; Time Magazine, May 11, 1936.

[173] Oral interview with Jennifer Sims.

[174] Oral interview with Jennifer Sims; Oral Interview with Penelope Harris.

[175] Menton, 72.

[1756] Baker and Cervenka, 5.

[177] Edward Alden Jewell, “Art in Review,” New York Times (1923-Current File), May 24, 1932, accessed March 12, 2013, http: //search.proquest.com. “Exhibition, Rehn Galleries,” Art News, Art News Associates, New York. Volume 31, April 29, 1933, 6.

[178] New York Times May 24, 1932.

[179] ART NEWS, April 29, 1933

[180] ART NEWS, April 29, 1933. 

[181] Baker and Cervenka, 6.

[182] Cott, 121.

[183] "A Mr. and Mrs.' Show," New York Times, Mar 17, 1931.

[184] Edward, Alden Jewell, "Wives without Husbands," New York Times, September 24, 1933.

[185] Oral history interview with Katherine Schmidt.

[186] "News of Art," New York Times (1923-Current File), Jun 04, 1935.

[187] “Lucy Sewing,” Art Digest, 11, no.12, (March 15, 1937), 5.

[188] Oral Interview with Penelope Harris.

[189] Cott, 185.

[190] Time Magazine, May 11, 1936.

[191]  Time Magazine, May 11, 1936.

[192] New York Times, May 3, 1936.

[193] “Exhibition, Feragil Gallery””, Art News, 34 (May 2 1936) 8.    

[194] Baker and Cervenka, 6-7.

[195] Baker and Cervenka, Mark, 6-7.

[196] “Precisely So,” Art News, 51,( May 1, 1952), 58.

[197] Atwater, 13.; New York Times February 15, 1968.

[198] New York Times, February 15, 1968.

[199] Oral Interview with Penelope Harris.

[200] Certificate and Record of Death for Jean Buller, 21 April, 1939, New York, NY, certificate # 9490.; NYC death index: 1898 to 1948, All Boroughs http://www.italiangen.org, (Accessed 8, March, 2013).; "Estates Appraised," New York Times , September 26, 1940.; "Wills for Probate,” New York Times), May 02, 1939.; "Obituary 6 -- no Title," Apr 22, 1939.

[201] New York Times, Apr 22, 1939.

[202] “Property Deed for Audrey Buller on West Road, Little Compton, RI”, September 21, 1940, Book 29, page 70, 1 page deed. Property records in Little Compton are held at the town Clerk’s office: Town Hall; 40 Commons; P.O. Box 226; Little Compton, RI 02837.

[203] Oral interview Jennifer Sims.

[204] Oral Interview Penelope Harris.

[205] Atwater, Nate, 1.

[206] Oral interview Jennifer Sims.

[207] Penelope Harris quoted in Atwater, Nate p14.

[208] Oral interview Jennifer Sims; Oral interview Penelope Harris.

[209] Oral interview Penelope Harris.

[210] “Audrey Buller a Magic Realist in retrospect Paintings from 1926-1952”, O’kane Gallery, Houston Texas, 2007, 2.

[211] “Metropolitan Buys Native Canvases,” New York Times (New York, NY) July 17, 1938; “Metropolitan Museum of Art Buys Canvas By Montrealer,” Montreal Gazette (Montreal, Quebec), July 23, 1938, accessed May 10, 2013, Google news.; “Notes.” The Metropolitan Museum of art Museum of Art Bulletin, The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Volume 12, No7, 1938, July 9, 1938, 169; “Audrey Buller a Magic Realist in retrospect Paintings from 1926-1952”, O’kane Gallery, Houston Texas, 2007, 2.

[212] Letter from Audrey Buller to Henry Ernest Schnakenberg, May 2, 1952.

[213] “Museum of Modern Art.” Accessed April 11, 2013. http://www.moma.org.

[214] Dorothy Canning Miller and Alfred Hamilton Barr, American Realists and Magic Realists, New York: Published for the Museum of Modern Art by Arno Press, 1969, 5.

[215] Miller and Barr, 8.

[216]Miller and Barr, 34.

[217] Edward Alden Jewell, ““With Accent on Modernism,” New York Times (1923-Current File). February 14, 1943, accessed March 14, 2013, http://search.proquest.com.

[218]  Jewell, New York Times, February 14, 1943.

[219] “Americans 1943: Realism and Magic Realism,” Art Digest, 17, No. 10 (February 15, 1943), 6.

[220] Baker and Cervenka, 7.

[221] AHAA@AHAAAmerican Art, Accessed March 4 2021

[222] Miller and Barr, 22, 58.

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