Helen McKinsey Herzbrun (1922-1984)


Helen McKinsey Herzbrun (1922-1984). Untiled, c.1955-60. Oil on canvas measures 46 x 48 inches. Simple wood frame is original. Signed lower margin. Some craquelure to paint surface is evident.



Born in Chicago, Helen McKinsey Herzbrun was an abstract painter who taught for twenty-five years at American University in Washington, D.C. She received her B.A. from the University of Chicago, and exhibited at the Corcoran Gallery Biennial (1953) and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (1954) as well as galleries in New York City, including Poindexter and Stable, and in Washington, D.C., where she showed at the Jefferson Place Gallery, from its opening in 1957 through 1974.

Reviewed in 1974, a show of her work at Jefferson Place of monotypes was praised for its qualities of color and freedom. In 1963, at the time of her show at the gallery, a long article quoted Herzbrun in the Washington Post and noted: “The categorical honesty of [her] statement are characteristic of the artist as a painter and as a person. The vital, painterly approach she has used has been a signature from the beginning, unchanged and uninfluenced by the new little ‘isms’ that sweep the art world each season. The strong slashing brushstrokes are laid on with a strength and vigor that admits of no compromise; there are no blurred or uncertain corners in this painting.”

At American University, Helen Herzbrun was part of an active art department faculty including Ben Summerford, Luciano Penay, Robert D’Arista, and Lothar Brabanski, who made a lasting contribution to a younger generation of artists. When illness forced Herzbrun to give up painting in 1981, she focused her attention on collage and monotype, working until her death in 1984. In lieu of a memorial service, at her request, a memorial show of her work was held at Watkins Art Gallery, American University.

Helen Herzbrun’s work may be found in the collection of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.