Esteban Vicente
1903 - 2001

Esteban Vicente (1903-2001) is a noted member of the New York School, whose career spanned eight decades and two continents. As part of the first generation of the Post-War American Abstract Expressionists Vicente’s lyrical abstraction served as a reflective counterpoint to Action Painting. Classically trained, Vicente’s observations of the natural world with its intangible relationships result in deeply meditative works that emphasize the play between color, light, and form. 


Vicente was born on January 20, 1903 in Turégano, Spain. Prioritizing his children’s education Vicente’s father, a member of the Civil Guard, resigned his position in the province and moved the family to Madrid. As a young man Vicente would accompany his father, an amateur painter, on trips to the Prado Museum. By 1919 Vicente had enrolled at the Escuela de Bellas Artes de San Fernando in Madrid to study sculpture. 


The rise of the “Generation of 1927” in Spain serves as the back drop to Vicente’s early career.  While in Madrid Vicente is surrounded by artists, poets, critics, and writers. He develops friendships with Federico García Lorca, Juan Ramón Jiménez, Rafael Alberti, Jorge Guillén, Pedro Salinas, as well as future filmmaker Luis Buñuel, publisher Ernesto Giménez Caballero, and the painters: Juan Bonafé, Francisco Bores, and Wladislaw Jahl, from Poland. Vicente’s early landscape, figure and still life drawings are reproduced in the literary magazines Mediodía in Seville, and Verso y Prosa, published in Murcia by Juan Guerrero. 


During this period Vicente travels extensively. From 1922-1924 he summered in Murcia. By 1928 Paris beckoned and Vicente left Madrid to take a studio which he shared with the painter, Pedro Flores. To support himself while in Paris Vicente took jobs retouching photographs and working on theatre sets for the Folies Bergère. It is in Paris that Vicente meets Picasso, who cautions Vicente against returning to Spain.  The first exhibition of Vicente’s work comes in 1928 and is held at the Ateneo de Madrid. 


With an invitation to show his work in Barcelona Vicente left Paris in 1930. While residing in Barcelona Vicente exhibited his work at Galeries Syra and Galeria Dalmau. The compositions include scenes of Barcelona life: outdoor cafes, the port, flamenco dancers, guitarists, and the Ramblas. The Junta para Ampliación de Estudios in Madrid awards Vicente a scholarship in 1932 to study abroad, affording him the opportunity to return to Paris where he meets his future wife, Esther Cherniakofsky Harac (Estelle Charney), an American student at the Sorbonne.

In 1935 Vicente married Estelle in Barcelona after which they briefly reside in Ibiza while Vicente worked from nature producing small drawings, watercolors, and paintings. Having decided to immigrate to America, Vicente is visiting with family in Madrid as the Spanish Civil War breaks out in July of 1936. After a brief delay in Madrid Vicente arrived in New York and established a residence with Estelle in Greenwich Village on Minetta Lane. It is here that Vicente renewed his friendship with the sculptor, José de Creeft, whom he had known in Barcelona and Paris. 


In 1937 Vicente would welcome the birth of his daughter, Mercedes, and accept the post as Vice-Consul of the Republic of Spain in Philadelphia, which he held until the end of the Spanish Civil War in 1939.  Despite the upheavals Vicente continued to exhibit his work and Vicente’s 1937 exhibition at Kleemann Galleries was reviewed in Art News. By 1942 Vicente would become a naturalized U.S. citizen.

Puerto Rico

The mid-1940s marked another period of personal turmoil and artistic growth for Vicente.  Vicente divorced Estelle in 1945 not long after the death of their daughter due to a congenital heart defect. The abstract under currents present in his later landscapes and portraiture emerge in sharp relief in the works exhibited at the University of Puerto Rico in 1945 and 1946 as Vicente undertook an exploration of Cubism. His return to New York in the late 1940s solidified the profound changes to his work. His newly developed friendships with seminal New York School artists: Willem de Kooning, Elaine de Kooning, Franz Kline, Barnett Newman, Phillip Pavia, Ad Reinhardt, and critics: Harold Rosenberg and Thomas Hess fortified Vicente’s growth. In October of 1948 he marries María Teresa Babin, a Puerto Rican poetess and professor of Spanish language and literature. While teaching painting at the University of California at Berkley over the summer of 1949 Vicente constructs his first collage.

New York

In 1950 Vicente established a studio at 88 East 10th St, the center of the downtown New York art world. It is in the 10th Street studio that Meyer Schapiro and Clement Greenberg select the painting, In Pink and Grey, for inclusion in the Talent 1950 exhibition at Kootz Gallery. Over the next decade Vicente exhibited his work in a number of notable galleries of the era: Rose Fried Gallery, Leo Castelli Gallery, Peridot Gallery, and the Stable Gallery.  

Throughout the 1960s he continues to exhibit his work at André Emmerich Gallery and Benson Gallery and is included in numerous group exhibitions across America. In 1961 Vicente marries Harriet Godfrey Peters after his marriage to María Teresa Babin endsin divorce. The 1964 purchase of their Bridgehampton property allows Vicente to divide his time between New York and Bridgehampton. Vicente converted an old barn on the property into a second studio that he maintained until his final days.

Vicente’s dedication to teaching young artists spanned his entire career and included positions at Black Mountain College, New York University, Princeton University, the University of California at Berkley and Los Angeles, and Yale University among many others. He was also a founding faculty member of the New York Studio School of Drawing, Painting, and Sculpture where he continued to lecture at well into his 90s.

Over his long career Vicente received numerous awards. In 1980 Vicente was nominated to the rank of Associate National Academician at the National Academy of Design. He achieved the rank of National Academician in 1985. By 1993 Vicente was an elected member of the Academy of Arts and Letters and had received the Lifetime Achievement in The Arts Award from the Guild Hall Museum in East Hampton, NY. Vicente also holds two Honorary Doctorates in Fine Arts. The first was awarded by the Parsons School of Design in 1984 and the second by Long Island University, Southampton College in 1993.

Vicente’s final decade brought many accolades from his native Spain. King Juan Carlos bestowed upon him the Gold Medal of Fine Arts in 1991. The Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia exhibited a major retrospective of Vicente’s works in 1998. In this same year Vicente attended the opening of the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo Esteban Vicente in Segovia, a museum in his honor established by the Spanish government. The decade’s honors culminate in 1999 with Vicente’s reception of the Grand Cross of the Civil Order of Alfonso X the Wise.


A disciplined artist to the end, Vicente continued to paint in his Bridgehampton studio through the final year of his life. On January 10, 2001 Vicente’s death at his home in Bridgehampton, NY at the age of 97 brought an end to a long and prolific career.