Shelter, c. 1944
Egg tempera on gessoed panel
16 ¾ x 16 ¾ inches
Signed lower center
Jared French was among a small circle of American artists working in the Magic Realist style during the 1940s and 1950s. Artists of this genre made an important contribution to American modernism with their realist paintings imbued with surreal and dream-like elements. French was a contemporary of Paul Cadmus and George Tooker, and the three artists collaborated for a number of years.
In the present work, Shelter, French has explored themes of isolation, the human unconscious, and sexuality. Perhaps set on a desolate beach of Fire Island, the empty landscape and dark, foreboding sky reveal a melancholic mood. The oversized man at right stands like a Greek kouros figure, much like the central tanned man painted in French’s State Park, in the collection of The Whitney Museum of American Art. The man, whose draped loin cloth suggestively reveals his chiseled body, constructs a rudimentary shelter for the seated woman. Viewers are further haunted by her fixed, unsettling gaze and the lone crab in the foreground of the composition.