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Herbert Gentry

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Herbert Gentry (1919-2003) was born in Pittsburgh but raised in New York City, and grew up against the backdrop of the Harlem Renaissance, an experience that was formative to his artistic and personal development. He served abroad in the U.S. Army in World War II, where he frequently visited Paris, a city that captured his imagination. Gentry returned to Paris as a student in 1946, one of the first to do so after the war. In 1949 he received his diploma from Académie de la Grande Chaumière and opened Chez Honey, a club-galerie in Montparnasse where jazz musicians played and artists exhibited. Over the years, this Paris circle of friends included noted American artists Beauford Delaney, Ed Clark, Romare Bearden, Bill Hutson, Kosta Alex, Shinkichi Tajiri, and Larry Potter, as well as important writers such as James Baldwin, Richard Wright, and Charles Himes.

Over the next fifty years, Gentry cultivated his practice of emotive abstract paintings abroad in Paris, Copenhagen, Stockholm, and Malmö, while also returning frequently to New York. He was deeply influenced by Expressionism and Primitivism, and incorporated elements of both into his work, developing a language that was distinctly his own. His early experiences in New York had a lasting impact on his work as well, particularly his exposure to jazz music. Gentry once said he thought that jazz music was one of the purest art forms. “Sometimes I think the painter in America is the jazz musician because you can’t lie. You see, no one can make you great just because you have money.” Gentry incorporated elements of jazz into his work, painting from his subconscious and taking a free-flowing approach.

A major touchstone of Gentry’s career was a solo exhibition at the Royal Art Academy in Stockholm in 1975, the first retrospective given to a non-Scandinavian at the museum. The show traveled to the Amos Andersson Museum in Helsinki, Finland and Norrköping Konstmuseum in Sweden.

His work is included in the permanent collections of a number of institutions as well, including the Bibliothèque Nationale de Paris, France; Brooklyn Museum, New York; Hirshhorn Museum, Washington, D.C.; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Moderna Museet, Stockholm, Sweden; National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi, India; the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, Netherlands; St. Louis Art Museum, Missouri; and the Studio Museum in Harlem, New York.

His work has been exhibited at notable institutions around the world, including: Galerie Futura, Stockholm, Sweden; Gooijer Fine Arts, Amsterdam, Netherlands; James E. Lewis Museum, Baltimore, MD; Phillips Museum of Art, Lancaster, PA; and Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, CT. Gentry has also been included in major group exhibitions, including Explorations in the City of Light: African-American Artists in Paris 1945-1965 at the Studio Museum in Harlem, where his work was exhibited alongside Beauford Delaney, Ed Clark, and Harold Cousin
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