Harry Bowden (1907-1965)

 Harry Bowden (1907-1965). View from Window, 1946. Oil on canvas measures 16 x 20 inches. Unframed. This a panoramic view of Richardson Bay from the artist’s Sausalito residence.  Bowden was a student of Hans Hofmann at  Berkeley, and this is an outstanding and early example representing the Berkeley School moment in California art history.

In 1946, Bowman was a professional photographer as well as artist, bouncing between New York City and Los Angeles. He associated with and photographed many of the Ab Ex giants of the New York School period. Just months before this painting was created, Bowman photographed De Kooning in his NYC studio, creating iconic images of the abstract expressionist at the beginning of his figurative period  http://dekooningexperts.com/de_kooning_chrono.html . Influences of both Hofmann and DeKooning are clearly evident in this landscape. Consequently, the technique and compositional strategies are highly informed and, historically speaking, extremely relevant for 1946. While we know of no direct association with Richard Diebenkorn, obvious aesthetic similarities from this time are evident in the Bowden piece.

While the image was created in 1946, the canvas itself is clearly repurposed from a few years earlier, c.1940, and bears Bowden’s NYC address. There is evidence of an earlier bright orange underpainting (painted over entirely). Condition is excellent with very minor surface cracking. Paint surface is entirely stable. Very clean and in all original condition. No inpainting or restoration. Sign wet into wet, and dated lower margin.



Birth place: California

Death place: Sausolito, CA

Addresses: NYC; Sausalito, CA

Profession: Painter, designer, lithographer, photographer

Studied: Univ. California; Los Angeles AI, with J. Francis Smith; NAD; ASL; UC Berkeley with Hans Hofmann

Exhibited: Paul Elder Gallery, San Fran., 1932 (solo); S.Indp.A., 1935; SMFA, 1945, 1950; Am. Abstract A., 1937-1939; Cal. Sch. FA, de Young Mem. Mus., 1948; Artists’ Gal., NY, 1949; LACMA, 1949; Gump’s Gal., San F., 1951, 1952; solo: East & West Gal., San F., 1955; CPLH, 1931,1955; George Eastman House, Rochester, NY, 1957; Galerie du Quartier, San Fran., 1958. Portfolio of recent works for UCLA Lib., 1944.

Member: Am. Abstract A. (cofounder)

Work: UCLA Lib.; MoMA; mural, Williamsburg Housing Project, Williamsburg, NY.

Comments: Worked as a commercial artist in Los Angeles until 1931, when he returned to UC Berkeley to study with Hans Hofmann (see entry). In 1933 he went to NYC to be Hofmann’s assistent at his new school.

Sources: WW59; WW47. More recently, see Hughes, Artists in California, 63.

A native of California, Harry Bowden began his art studies at the Los Angeles Art Institute and later worked in commercial advertising.  Between 1928 and 1931, Bowden divided his time between the National Academy of Design, the Art Students League in New York, and the Chouinard School of Art in Los Angeles.  He soon became dissatisfied with academic training, saying “It made art too much of a craft.  You win a prize and pretty soon you have a home in the country and it becomes a routine business.”

In 1931, after a summer class with Hans Hofmann at the University of California at Berkeley, Bowden determined to pursue painting seriously.  He made his way to New York working as a petty officer on a merchant ship.  By 1934 he was again studying with Hofmann.  The following year he became one of Hofmann’s assistants and was friendly with George McNeil, Albert Swinden, Wilfrid Zogbaum, Ad Reinhardt, and Willem de Kooning.  In 1937 and 1938, he painted two
murals for the Williamsburg Housing Project.  Bowden’s New York work prior to 1940 reflects his fascination with a broad range of abstract themes, some of which, like Untitled: Nude, have a figurative basis, while others, as Number 47 (Untitled Abstraction), avoid reference to recognizable elements.  Throughout his work from these years, however, runs evidence of Hofmann’s teachings
and an abiding interest in Cubism.

In New York, Bowden achieved recognition through exhibitions of his paintings at the nonprofit Artists’ Gallery (1938–46), the Egan Gallery, the Reinhardt Gallery, and the New School for Social Research. His fashion and commercial photography was also well received. In 1942, after the United States entered World War II, Bowden returned to California to become a shipfitter. Although he continued to show in New York, and periodically visited there, Sausalito became his permanent home.

Following the war, photography again became an important part of his life.  From the mid 1950s until his premature death of a heart attack in 1965, he concentrated in both photography and painting, on the figure.  An admirer of Edward Weston, of whom he made an unfinished film called “Wildcat Hill Revisited,” perhaps Bowden remains best known for photographs of sensual female nudes in landscape settings and portraits of jazz musicians, writers, and other painters.


Bowden had been a founding member of the American Abstract Artists (1936-39). Gradually, he moved away from purely geometric nonobjective work and created abstractions having a Cezanne-like distortion to them. Landscapes and cubist-influenced figures eventually came to predominate his work.