Yvonne Jacquette, an artist acclaimed for her aerial views of cities and landscapes, passed away in her Manhattan home on April 23, 2023. Born in Pittsburgh in 1934, she grew up in Stamford, Connecticut, and studied at the Rhode Island School of Design from 1952-1955, leaving after three years to move to New York. There, she created her own program of study through visiting galleries and immersing herself in a milieu of other artists, poets, writers, and filmmakers. She continued to live and work in New York City and Searsmont, Maine until her passing. DC Moore Gallery has represented the artist since 1995.
In the early 1960s, Jacquette started using her surroundings as subject matter, observing her immediate reality from unusual points of view: looking through the windows of the flower district near her apartment on West 29th Street, down at her son’s toys on the floor, or up at the light reflected on the tin ceiling while practicing yoga on the floor. These cinematic glimpses of daily life would later translate into her extreme long-views and aerial perspectives, offering alternative visions of reality through direct observation.
In the summer of 1964, Jacquette and her husband, filmmaker and photographer Rudy Burckhardt (1914-1999), rented a house in Lincolnville, Maine with Edwin Denby, Mimi Gross and Red Grooms, near Alex and Ada Katz. In this collaborative, familial environment, Jacquette took the opportunity to experiment with plein-air painting. After she and Burckhardt purchased a house in the nearby town of Searsmont in 1965, she began depicting cropped and angled views of barn interiors and exteriors, windows, and skies.
Jacquette and Burckhardt’s circle of friends and fellow artists included Nell Blaine, Lois Dodd, Red Grooms, Mimi Gross, Alex Katz, Willem de Kooning, Robert Mangold, Sylvia Plimack Mangold, and Fairfield Porter. Her 1967 work, The James Bond Car Painting was included in the group exhibition, Realism Now, at Vassar College Art Gallery in 1968, marking her first recognition as part of the New Realist movement. In the catalogue essay for the exhibition, Linda Nochlin formulates New Realism as characterized by largeness of scale, a field like flatness, a concern with measurement, and the use of photographic techniques such as cropping, close-ups and disjunction of scale. Nochlin argues that “not since the Impressionists, has there been a group so concerned with the problems of vision and their solution in terms of pictorial notation and construction.” In addition to these characteristics, Jacquette took interest in the painterly qualities of light and the motion implicit in visible brushstrokes.
A flight to San Diego in 1969 sparked Yvonne Jacquette’s interest in aerial views, after which she began flying in commercial airliners to study cloud formations and weather patterns. She first made watercolor studies while on board, some of which she later combined in sequence and translated into oils. During a flight on a cloudless day, she began to recognize the unobscured landscape below presented new challenges and opportunities. She sketched and painted natural landscapes and man-made cityscapes as seen from above, beginning a process that developed into a defining element of her art.
In 1975, Jacquette chartered a private plane in Maine in order to make bird’s-eye view studies for Passagassawaukeag I, her first major aerial landscape. She followed this in 1978 with her first nocturnal aerial painting, East River View at Night. The painting was developed from drawings done during extended visits to Edwin Denby in a hospital overlooking New York’s East River and FDR Drive. In this way, a serendipitous set of circumstances inspired an ongoing exploration of the effects of bright lights, reflections, and indistinct objects set against the surrounding darkness.
Building upon these initial experiments, Jacquette painted aerial landscapes across the country, as well as city views in Chicago, Minneapolis, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Tokyo, Vancouver, and New Orleans. She worked from such well-known vantage points as the World Trade Center, Washington Monument and Sears Tower in Chicago, now known as the Willis Tower. It was after a trip to Hong Kong in 1990 that she began incorporating composite viewpoints into her work.
In 1984, Vincent Katz wrote, “What is the point of the aerial view [in Yvonne Jacquette’s paintings]? You can look at it and say, Oh, that’s an aerial view, but there must be more than that. There must be a reason this artist has become obsessed with this view of the world. To me, a view from a plane, especially at evening or night, is very romantic. The pretty way the lights glow and all those lives. It’s a distant view, removed, and yet it includes an intimacy of looking into people’s backyards.”
In her later aerial and nocturne paintings, Jacquette embraced the atmospheric qualities of darkness and neon lights, the varied, tapestry-like textures of fields seen from above, and the energetic, organic patterns found in urban landscapes. Her recent views of cities document the rapidly changing built environment, leaning further into memory and fantasy while remaining rooted in careful observation.
Major institutional exhibitions include, Under New York Skies: Nocturnes by Yvonne Jacquette, organized by the Museum of the City of New York in 2008. A comprehensive retrospective, Aerial Muse: The Art of Yvonne Jacquette, originated at the Cantor Center for Visual Arts, Stanford University, CA in 2002 and traveled to Colby College Museum of Art, Waterville, ME; Utah Museum of Fine Arts, Salt Lake City; and the Hudson River Museum, Yonkers, NY.
Recently, Jacquette’s work was included in the exhibitions, Hokusai: Inspiration and Influence (2023) at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; At First Light: Two Centuries of Art in Maine (2022) at the Bowdoin Museum of Art, Maine, and Slab City Rendezvous (2018-19) at the Farnsworth Art Museum, Maine. In 2010, The Center for Maine Contemporary Art organized the exhibition Yvonne Jacquette––Aerials: Paintings, Prints, Pastels.
Jacquette’s work is included in the collections of over forty museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY; The Museum of Modern Art, NY; Whitney Museum of American Art, NY; Brooklyn Museum, NY; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC; The Philadelphia Museum of Art, PA; Portland Museum of Art, ME; St. Louis Art Museum, MO; and Stanford University Art Museum, CA.
Jacquette is survived by her son, Tom Burckhardt, stepson Jacob Burckhardt, daughter-in-law Kathy Butterly, grandchildren Keno Burckhardt, Ava Burckhardt, and Hugh Burckhardt, her sisters Germaine Jacquette, Arlene Jacquette, Jeanne Jacquette Arago, and brothers Bill Jacquette and Robert Jacquette. Her brother James Jacquette passed away earlier in 2023.
The planned exhibition of Yvonne Jacquette’s work, organized in collaboration with the artist and her son Tom Burckhardt, Yvonne Jacquette: Looking Up/Down/Inside/Out, will open as scheduled at DC Moore Gallery on May 4, with the support of her family as a tribute to her life and work.