Butterfly

Butterfly
Leland Bell
1922-1991
Acquisition Number: 992.3
Medium: Linen
Size: 43" x 63 1/4"
Date: n.d.

Leland Bell was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1922. Bell was a self-taught painter whose passion for the discipline of painting has inspired and influenced many. Bell defied categorization, creating works that were classical, abstract yet representational. He set himself apart with a style that employed strong outlines and bold color. Bell’s paintings are immediately recognizable for their singular graphic qualities: black contour lines, bold planes of color, and dynamic composition. His paintings recreate a scene where a domestic group responds to a butterfly or bird, taking inspiration from Balthus’ La Phalene (The Moth), in both the intrusion of nature and the figures’ lively gestures. Bells playful images make expressive use of the arms, both to denote a celebratory mood and to visually connect sections of the painting. He was also a fierce advocate for artists that he admired. In the early years of his career these included Karl Knaths, Jean Arp, and Piet Mondrian; in the mid-1940s his allegiance to abstract painting receded after he formed a friendship with Jean Hélion, and Bell subsequently became a champion of Hélion, Fernand Léger, Balthus, Alberto Giacometti, and André Derain.  Bell was also a jazz aficionado and drummer. In 1944 he married the painter Louisa Matthíasdóttir (1917–2000), whose figurative style influenced his work. In contrast to Matthíasdóttir, who worked quickly, Bell labored over his paintings, sometimes for years. The couple had a daughter, Temma, in 1945. The family divided their time between New York and Matthíasdóttir's native Iceland. Bell was diagnosed with leukemia in the 1980s, and died September 1991.