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Frances Jacobson

Frances Jacobson: Frances Jacobson's

Frances Jacobson's "African Chief, Ghana"


1923 - 2011

Frances Jacobson was raised by Jewish-American immigrants in Brooklyn, New York. Although she always believed she was meant to be an artist, she didn’t start painting in great earnest until she was in her 60s, after spending her adulthood as a dentist’s housewife and raising three children, one of whom had a serious illness.

Jacobson herself was ill as a child – she had contracted polio at age of five. She would spend the rest of her life unable to use one arm properly, propping it up while she was painting. Her son believes the hands in her portraits, which are almost always oversized and nearly grotesque, reflect her own problematic hands, or perhaps were even depictions of them.

While she enjoyed some critical acclaim in her lifetime, she never achieved any kind of fame. She primarily painted friends, family and neighbors. She rarely did portraits of happy people; instead, she wanted their appearance to convey their inner challenges or even the harsh darkness of their lives. She worked quickly, often completing a large painting in about two weeks. The vast majority of her oeuvre was created in the 1980s and early ‘90s, most of which was preserved by her family and rarely offered publicly.

Extremely well read and fascinated with cultures, Jacobson traveled to Ghana in 1987. There she painted villagers and tribal chiefs. These are considered her finest academic work. In many ways, her paintings can be likened to those of important 20th Century American artist Alice Neel. Like Neel, Jacobson’s paintings are notable for the use of line and color to create an almost psychological study of emotionally intense characters. She died in 2011.

Last updated: March 27, 2014

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