Lee Krasner, 1956.
Photograph by Maurice Berezov.

A native of Brooklyn, New York, Lena Krassner (who preferred to be called Lenore, later Lee, and who changed her last name to Krasner) was born on 27 October 1908 to an immigrant Russian-Jewish couple. Her early art training was at The Cooper Union, Art Students League, and the National Academy of Design in New York, where she studied from 1928-32. Her headstrong, independent character often set Krasner at odds with her instructors at the conservative academy, where she nevertheless received a thorough grounding in drawing, painting, and design.

After graduating from the academy, Krasner took college courses toward a teaching certificate and worked as a model and waitress. In spite of the onset of the Great Depression, she did not give up hope of becoming a full-time professional artist. That goal seemed more attainablewhen, in 1934, she was accepted for employment by the Public Works of Art Project, the first of the New Deal art patronage programs. Like Pollock and many of their contemporaries, she would depend on government work, principally for the WPA's Federal Art Project (FAP), until the agencies were disbanded in 1943. Curiously, although she and Pollock were employed at the same time on the New York City FAP, they apparently met only once during that period, at an Artists Union party in 1936. Both were still in their formative years as artists; Krasner, despite her professional validation by the FAP, was dissatisfied with her development. In 1937 she returned to art school, this time at the 8th Street atelier of the celebrated German émigré Hans Hofmann, who transmitted principles of modernism from Munich and Paris to New York. She was associated with Hofmann's school through 1940, and during that period radically revised her visual language. Having begun her career with naturalistic, even illustrative, paintings and drawings, she quickly discarded old orthodoxies in favor of a schematic cubist idiom, in which she created her first mature works.


Self-Portrait, ca 1929.
Oil on canvas 30 1/2 x 32 1/2"
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Composition, ca 1940-43
Oil on linen 30 x 24"
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington DC