Don Freeman (1908–1978), Ladies of the Evening Posted on July 21st, 2014 by

Ladies of the EveningDon Freeman (1908–1978)
Ladies of the Evening, 1937
Color lithograph on paper, 9 1⁄8 x 6 1⁄4 inches
Gift of Gene and Ann Basset

Freeman was known for his depictions of New York City life, in particular its theatre scene, such as this image of cleaning women in operatic poses, at work in an emptied theatre following the night’s performance. The artist carried a sketchbook wherever he went, in order to capture the urban images he encountered. One of Freeman’s primary mentors as a young man was the artist John Sloan (1871–1951), with whom he studied at the Art Students League. The Hillstrom Museum of Art’s example of Sloan’s 1926 etching titled Kraushaar’s has an inscription by Sloan to Freeman, who therefore must have owned it at one time. In addition to being known for his prints and paintings, Freeman was also famous for his children’s books, including Corduroy (1968), a well-known book about a toy stuffed bear that he wrote and illustrated. He was also an accomplished jazz musician who played the trumpet. For a time, he supported himself by performing with a dance band in nightclubs, then after losing his instrument on the subway once decided to concentrate on making his living through his artworks and began submitting his theatre sketches, frequently made backstage, to newspapers. He continued to play trumpet, however, and even played it in a 1941 Broadway play The Beautiful People by William Saroyan (1908–1981), in which he played the role of Harold Webster. An article about the play in Life magazine on May 19, 1941, featured a photograph from a performance of a scene in which other members of the Webster Family are gathered around the trumpet-playing Freeman as Harold. Freeman became friends with Louis Armstrong (1901–1971), whose playing he highly admired, and Freeman visited and sketched Armstrong with his trumpet nearby once when he was sick in bed.

Text from the catalogue for the exhibition The Eight, The Ashcan School, and The American Scene in the Hillstrom Collection, presented in the Hillstrom Museum of Art February 25 through April 21, 2013.


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