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Hamptons Life

Dec 11, 2014 1:24 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Jane Freilicher, 90, Shaped Long Island Landscapes

Dec 16, 2014 1:10 PM

As a child, Elizabeth Hazan would lie on the daybed in her mother’s studio, either in Manhattan or Water Mill, and watch intently as the artist painted her latest masterpiece.If they were on the East End, the potato fields and flower gardens were the source of her inspiration, fueling her light-filled work. She was a member of the second generation of Abstract Expressionist artists, a post-World War II movement that focused more on the artist’s psyche rather than a specific subject.

In this case, it was that of Jane Freilicher. Known for her paintings of picturesque landscapes throughout the Hamptons, the artist died on Tuesday, December 9, of pneumonia at her home in Manhattan. She was 90.

“I am inspired by her work, but my work is different,” said Ms. Hazan, who followed in her mother’s footsteps and became an artist, said during a telephone interview last week. “My mother was such an intuitive artist, like someone who plays music by ear.”

Born Jane Niederhoffer on November 29, 1924, she eloped at age 17 with jazz musician Jack Freilicher, who played with the U.S. Army band at West Point during World War II. Before their marriage was annulled in 1946, Mr. Freilicher introduced her to Larry Rivers, whom she influenced to become a painter and, eventually, became romantically involved with.

Ms. Freilicher did not pursue art until she attended Brooklyn College, earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1947, followed by an apprenticeship with Abstract Expressionist Hans Hofmann at his schools in Manhattan and Provincetown, Massachusetts—the most significant influence on her early evolution, which she experienced alongside Mr. Rivers.

She would grow to be a key figure in the movement, as well, referred to “The Painter Among Poets,” having befriended writers, too, including John Ashbery, James Schuyler and Kenneth Koch.

It wasn’t until the early 1950s when Ms. Freilicher first ventured out to the East End, visiting the family of her friend, and fellow artist, Fairfield Porter in Southampton. After marrying painter Joseph Hazan—a wealthy clothing manufacturer and former dancer—they took to the potato fields and rented a house on Flying Point Road in Water Mill for the next several years before buying 4 acres overlooking Mecox Bay in 1960. There, they built a house and studio, where Ms. Freilicher painted many of her admired pieces—some of which have made their way into the Parrish Art Museum’s permanent collection in Water Mill, where “The Lace Tablecloth” and “Bottles of Linseed Oil” are currently on view.

“Jane’s transcendent paintings of the views from her Flying Point studio are among the best-loved works in the Parrish’s permanent collection,” said Terrie Sultan, director of the Parrish Art Museum, “and will endure as lasting images in the long tradition of American landscape painting.”

By those who worked with her, Ms. Freilicher was often described as generous, low-maintenance and modest. Eric Brown, co-owner of the Tibor de Nagy Gallery in Manhattan, which represented the artist for the majority of her career, first met her in her Manhattan studio when he was a mere college student, he recalled last week during a telephone interview. He was staring at a freshly painted landscape of mallow flowers set against a clear, blue Long Island sky, when a voice startled him from behind.

“Do you think it needs a cloud?”

“I was stunned by the question, and amazed. I’d never met an artist like her,” Mr. Brown said. “She possessed a unique combination of total lack of pomposity, supreme confidence and generosity—the generosity of caring what a 23-year-old kid thought. She was a completely intuitive and brilliant artist.”

While Ms. Freilicher’s paintings typically depict tranquil pastures and breezy, loose brushwork, she was anything but soft-spoken. Photographer John Jonas Gruen, who splits his time between Manhattan and Water Mill, described Ms. Freilicher as “a great deal of fun.” He met her at a party several decades ago, and the pair became fast friends. Ms. Freilicher was always quick on her feet, he said, often leaving her poet friends at a loss for words.

“She was able to come out with sentences that even they could not think of,” Mr. Gruen said last week during a telephone interview. “She was a huge personality with a great deal of wit. She had an answer for everything. She was a great complainer, and we loved her complaining. It was always accurate.”

Though many of Ms. Freilicher’s contemporaries have died, she is admired and respected by a new generation in the galleries of the Parrish Art Museum and, even, among the expansive potato fields on the East End, according to Sag Harbor-based artist Eric Fischl. Her work has changed the way he sees the local landscapes, he said.

“To me, when I drive around, I see her,” he said last week. “Her vision of it. She’s so imprinted in my brain. You drive by a field, you say, ‘Oh, my God, a Freilicher!’”

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