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Ralston Crawford

(1906 - 1987)

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Biography

The son of a ship captain, Ralston Crawford's childhood was filled with visits to the dry docks. After a brief stint as a seaman, he enrolled in a Los Angeles art school, but returned East in 1927 to study at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. In Philadelphia, Crawford became familiar with the work of major European and American modernists through several local collections including that of Dr. Albert Barnes, whose emphasis on the formal elements of line, color, and space was reflected in his accumulation of over seven hundred works of modern French masters (the most significant in the United States.)  Crawford also attended the weekly lectures on art theory given at the Barnes Foundation, which emphasized the importance of formal relationships as the basis for structural integrity.

Following his return to New York in 1931, Crawford remained dedicated to modernist theory, despite the growing trend in the art world toward realism. In 1935 he moved to rural Pennsylvania where he began reducing his style to flat shapes and strong colors.  Crawford's crisp, geometric paintings of industrial America were lauded by critics during the first one man show in New York in February of 1939. Crawford became an instant celebrity that same month, when Life magazine published his painting, Overseas Highway in an article on San Francisco's Golden Gate Exposition.


After four years of military service during World War II, Crawford returned to a changed art world increasingly focused on a younger generation, which tended toward abstraction.  Despite this, he maintained a vigorous exhibition schedule and secured representation from Edith Halpert in 1943. As affirmations of the union between America's industrial optimism and broadening cultural influence, Crawford's Precisionist images are enjoying renewed attention from scholars, collectors, and dealers, due in part to the Whitney Museum of American Art's 1984 exhibition, Ralston Crawford, held six years after the artist's death.