NEW YORK CITY — Will Barnet, a legendary abstract painter who lived in the National Arts Club in Gramercy, died of pneumonia on Tuesday, according to reports. He was 101.
Barnet moved to New York in 1931 from Beverly, Mass. after winning a scholarship to the Art Students League, where he became the league's printmaker and eventually spent 47 years as a teacher.
In 1935, Barnet celebrated his first solo show in New York at the Eighth Street Playhouse, and since then, Barnet's works have been added to the permanent collections of 300 museums worldwide, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art. A National Academy Museum show in September of 2011 was his first retrospective in a New York City museum.
"I came to be an artist here. To start my career," Barnet said at the time. "It was a deep Depression. There were bread lines and all kinds of bad things. But it was a good time for young men, ready to work. I could rent a room for $2 a night."
Barnet never joined a movement, bucking popular trends throughout his career. He was a figurative painter for 40 years when pop art became popular in the 1960s, and switched back to abstract art when his figurative work began to catch on.
Barnet was a member of the National Arts Club since 1977, where he taught and mentored other artists.
"Will Barnet was, without question, a national treasure and his spirit and legacy will remain a presence in the National Arts Club in perpetuity," club president Dianne Bernhard said in a statement.
He also taught at Cooper Union and Yale, among other places. His famous students included Mark Rothko and Alex Katz.
Awards given to Barnet include the first Artist's Lifetime Achievement Award Medal from the National Academy of Design, the College Art Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award, the Philadelphia Academy of Fine Art’s Lippincott Prize, and the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters’ Childe Hassam Prize, according to the National Arts Club.
He was also an elected member of the National Academy of Design, The Century Association, and the American Academy of Arts and Letters,
In January, the French Government honored Barnet with the insignia of Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters, according to reports. And in February, Barnet traveled to Washington, D.C., where he received the 2011 National Medal of Arts from President Barack Obama, "for his contributions as an American painter, printmaker, and teacher."
Toward the end of his life, Barnet could no longer stand, but would paint for three-to-four hours a day from the duplex apartment he and his wife had shared since 1982. He died in his home on Tuesday, with his wife by his side, a statement from the National Arts Club said.
Barnet is survived by his wife, Elena, his daughter, Ona, his sons, Peter, Richard and Todd, and seven grandchildren, according to the National Arts Club.