A surrealist work with figures falling off of chairs.

Alton Pickens

American, 1917-1991

The Send-Off, 1950

Oil on canvas

53 ¼ x 44 inches

Signed and dated upper left

Born in Seattle, Washington in 1917, Pickens spent part of his childhood in Germany and was inspired by its culture and art, particularly the German old master painters. Pickens was later educated at Reed College in Portland, Oregon and the Portland Art Museum School. In 1939, he moved to New York and briefly attended the New School for Social Research before abandoning any type of formal education. The 1940s were a prolific period for Alton Pickens, as he gained wider exposure in the New York art scene through major exhibitions at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art.

The present work, The Send-Off, is set underneath a wooden staircase, with three figures that appear to float in space. At left, a man in a vibrant yellow suit precariously supports himself atop a bright wooden caned chair, of which a similar design appears in Pickens’ painting, Carnival, in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art. The man seems to communicate with the suited figure below, who sits crouched at the base of the stairs. A third figure floats above, with only his bare legs and feet visible. Despite the mysterious scenario and surrealistic effects, Pickens was a masterful painter of realism as seen in the intricate patterning of the pink suit, the attention to light and shadow, and the exacting details of the hands and feet of the figures.

A surrealist work with figures falling off of chairs.