25 October 2019

Which places influenced the artist Lee Krasner? Which traces did she leave? A five-part series about the life of the outstanding artist.

By Natalie Wichmann

On my search along the trail of Lee Krasner in New York, I arrive at Marble Collegiate Church at the corner of 29th Street and 5th Ave. It’s a clear day with a bright blue sky and the white marble church glitters in the early morning sun. Since it is a weekday, you can only enter the church through the side entrance. There I’m meeting the Director of Membership & Connecting, who has agreed to show me around.

When Marble Collegiate Church was built in 1854, 5th Avenue was still a dirt lane. The architect Samuel A. Warner envisioned a church in the Romanesque Style with Gothic influences constructed completely out of white marble quarried locally in Hastings-on-Hudson. He created a soaring space with ceiling arches, the first ever cantilevered, free-hanging balconies in a church, and mahogany pews with brass-plated doors. After an extensive renovation in 1891, including replacing clear windows with diamond-shaped stained ones and painting the inside burgundy and gold, the interior didn’t change much anymore and looked like this, as well, when Lee Krasner and Jackson Pollock got married there in the autumn of 1945.

Photo: Natalie Wichmann

When invited to show her work at a group show with European artists, including Picasso and Braque, and “unknown Americans” in 1941 Lee Krasner was surprised that the only American she didn’t know was one by the name of Jackson Pollock. After asking around, she found out that he had his studio close to hers and decided on a whim to visit him. His work blew her mind and she was convinced right away that he would make art history. She fell for his art first and then for the almost shy, slightly rugged man. Pollock came with a lot of baggage, though. He was an alcoholic and mentally unstable – he had been institutionalized for six months shortly before he and Krasner met. At the beginning, she just didn’t know and later she found purpose in taking care of him. She also started to introduce him to the right people and when he got an invite to submit work for the first salon of the newly opened Art of This Century gallery by Peggy Guggenheim the art world started to notice him, too.

Strolling through the almost unadorned white wood doors of the side entrance and through a small hallway the room suddenly opens into the wide nave with crimson walls covered in gold-painted fleurs-des-lys. The contrast between the bright white outside and the royal red inside couldn’t be more striking. Light sifts through the ten colorful, narrative picture windows that are a rather recent addition – the first two designed by the famous Tiffany studio were added from 1900-1901, the rest has been integrated from 1998-2008. It is hard to image the fiercely modern Lee Krasner in such an opulent, overtly traditional church.  

After a vacation in 1944 in the Hamptons, Krasner and Pollock decided to leave the city. Lee Krasner had high hopes that this would help with Pollock’s addiction, as well. She wanted to get married first, though. Pollock agreed, but, after being fascinated by rituals since childhood, wants to do it in a church – not an easy task since he was Catholic and Lee Krasner Jewish. She finally finds a liberal minister at Marble Collegiate Church, probably Dr. Norman Peale who was the church’s minister from 1932 up until 1984 and known for his modern approach to faith, creating radio and TV shows and authoring 46 books. As I leave and walk down 29th Street, I notice that the lot behind the church is vacant. When I lift my gaze above the common dark green construction fence, I can see the Empire State Building and instantly have to smile.