Justin McCarthy (artist)

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Justin McCarthy
Born(1891-05-13)May 13, 1891
Hazleton, Pennsylvania
DiedJuly 14, 1977(1977-07-14) (aged 86)
Tucson, Arizona

Justin McCarthy (13 May 1891–14 July 1977) was a self-taught American artist. His work is in many important collections, including those of the American Folk Art Museum, the Milwaukee Art Museum, the Petullo Collection, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the Smithsonian American Art Museum. The New York Times has praised his "paintings and drawings of gestural force and narrative interest."[1] McCarthy's imagery anticipates the Pop art of the 1960s.[1]

Life and work[edit]

McCarthy lived for almost his entire life in the small town of Weatherly, Pennsylvania, where his family was well established (a patrician background uncommon among self-taught artists).[2] He failed his second year exams while in law school at the University of Pennsylvania, which led to a severe mental breakdown, after which he was institutionalized for years before returning "to his family's decayed mansion, where he lived with his mother."[2][note 1] This breakdown saved him from the trenches of World War I, but considerably reduced his professional prospects. McCarthy then turned to art as a therapeutic outlet from the menial work he was limited to by his precarious mental health.[2] His mother died in 1940, leaving him alone in the big, dilapidated house (which was grand enough to have its own theatre for the staging of plays).[3] His art depicts figures from popular culture as well as animals, biblical scenes, and everyday life. Pictorially, he had a predilection for glamorous women—movie stars, fashion models, and other celebrities—as well as sports heroes.[2][4] This interest in popular culture was not uncommon among American artists in the 1920s: both Stuart Davis and Gerard Murphy incorporated the visual argot of advertising into a bright Cubist syntax.[5] Unlike these proto-Pop artists, however, McCarthy's style is expressionist, with a highly gestural and textured appearance that readily calls to mind works by European masters such as Emil Nolde and Chaim Soutine. (The most significant early "discoverer" and promoter of McCarthy's art, Sterling Strauser, characterized his style as "naive expressionist.")[1]


  1. ^ For the fact that the breakdown followed on the failure of his exams, see any of the references (except Hughes).


  1. ^ a b c Adelson, Fred B. (18 July 1999). "Art Review: An Outsider's Belated Moment in the Sun". The New York Times. New York. Retrieved 28 July 2014.
  2. ^ a b c d Hollander, Stacy C.; Anderson, Brooke Davis; et al. (2001). American Anthem: Masterworks from the American Folk Art Museum. New York: Harry N. Abrams in association with the American Folk Art Museum. p. 378.
  3. ^ "Justin McCarthy". The Anthony Petullo Collection. Retrieved 28 July 2014.
  4. ^ "Justin McCarthy / American Art". Smithsonian Institution. Retrieved 28 July 2014.
  5. ^ Hughes, Robert (1991). The Shock of the New. New York: Alfred Knopf. p. 330.

External links[edit]