Horace Pippin, Mr. Prejudice, 1943. Oil on canvas, 18 x 14″ (Image courtesy of The Philadelphia Museum of Art. Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Matthew Moore)

 

Last summer I was strolling through the galleries of the new Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia, surrounded by the exquisite paintings of Matisse, Modigliani, Cézanne, when a small painting of Abraham Lincoln and his father building a log cabin caught my eye. A wrinkled woman with fiery hair and dangling diamond earrings froze beside me, also awestruck. “Look at that one,” she said to a friend, staring up at the wall. “How beautiful. Who on earth painted it?”

The Barnes has one of the finest collections of French Impressionist and modern art in the world, and because of Alfred Barnes’s eccentric wall arrangements, holding a viewer’s attention is no small matter in a museum vibrating with Matisse’s raw colors and bulging with far too many plump, Renoir nudes.

That day in Philadelphia I opened my notebook and wrote the following:

“HORACE PIPPIN!”

And just so I wouldn’t forget, I underlined Pippin’s name three times. And then I starred it for good measure.

 

Horace Pippin, Abraham Lincoln and His Father Building Their Cabin on Pigeon Creek, c. 1934. Oil on fabric (later mounted to composition board) 16 1/4 x 20 1/4 in. (41.3 x 51.4 cm)
(Image © 2013 The Barnes Foundation)

 

 

Horace Pippin’s final painting, Man on a Bench, 1946. Oil on canvas.

 

 

Horace Pippin, Self-Portrait, 1941. Oil on canvas board, 20 x 17 x 2 1/2 inches (50.8 x 43.18 x 6.35 cm)  (Image courtesy the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York)

 

A descendent of slaves, Horace Pippin’s biography is a compelling one. Here is an excerpt from his Wikipedia entry:

He was born in West Chester, Pennsylvania, and grew up in Goshen, New York. There he attended segregated schools until he was 15, when he went to work to support his ailing mother. As a boy, Horace responded to an art supply company’s advertising contest and won his first set of crayons and a box of watercolors. As a youngster, Pippin made drawings of racehorses and jockeys from Goshen’s celebrated racetrack. Prior to 1917, Pippin variously toiled in a coal yard, in an iron foundry, as a