Maurice Freed (1911‑1981)

Maurice Freed, a native of Pottsville, PA and a graduate of the Philadelphia College of Art, lived and painted in Philadelphia during most of his life.  At the age of nineteen, he won a scholarship to the Cape School of Art in Provincetown where he studied with Henry Hensche, Morris Davidson, and Albert Alcalay.  At twenty‑one, he sketched on the beaches of Atlantic City, NJ. At twenty-two, he traveled to Paris to paint and then in 1934, at the age of twenty‑three, his talents were recognized when he was invited to Chicago to become Art Director of Esquire magazine.

Following his early professional success at Esquire and as a contributor to the New Yorker, Holiday, Stage, Saturday Evening Post, and Fortune magazines, and after fourteen years of operating a successful advertising art service, Freed turned to his real love, the fine arts. He returned to France to paint and from 1960 until his death in 1981, he devoted himself to his painting and to the world of art around him. In addition to the time spent working in his studio and exhibiting, he taught drawing and painting, served as president of the Philadelphia Chapter of Artists Equity Association, and from 1979‑1981 attended seminars at the Barnes Art Foundation.

Freed gained international recognition from his year‑long sojourn in France in 1960, being featured in a lead article in Information Artistique (Paris, 1961) and upon his return, in The American Artist (New York, 1962). Extensive travel throughout his life brought to Freed’s work an extraordinary diversity of subject matter and mood. In the 1930’s, he traveled and sketched in Mexico; in the 1950’s he was in Haiti.  He journeyed and painted throughout Europe, first in 1933 and then at regular intervals from 1959‑1979.  He spent considerable periods of time in France: first in 1933, from 1960‑1961, in 1967 and again in 1979.  He painted while in Portugal in 1969, 1970, 1971, in Spain, in Israel in 1974, in England in 1979.  Freed worked most exuberantly in the out of doors where the richness of changing landscapes and the customs and century‑old buildings of his surroundings could find their way onto his canvases.  The European influence of the Old Masters, of the French Impressionists and the early Cubists clearly shows itself in his work.

Freed has been described in various ways.  John Groth (of Esquire magazine) called him “the millionth oyster ‑‑ the one that has a pearl.” Groth went on to say: “If you’re a fiend for sources, chalk up Degas, Laurencin, and Bellows ‑‑ one part each. The other fourth is thank god mongrel: the portion of unassignable originality.  At twenty‑two, that’s a large portion.” Henry Pitz in The American Artist, described his work as follows: “A native color sense has luxuriated in freedom; a command of pigmented textures keeps every surface alive.  He has absorbed the wiser teachings of modernism and uses them knowingly. …the forms have a tantalizing freshness as they hover between the abstract and the concrete and nudge the mind to recall something half remembered.” Jack Bookbinder stated that Freed’s work “reflects a lifetime of search and experience. He is equally at home with poetic realism, vigorous semi‑abstraction and occasional excursions into experimental assemblages ‑‑ and always with a distinctive sense of   color and design.  Using a variety of approaches, his paintings may be witty, happy, solemn ‑ but never casual; they are sincere expressions of his multifaceted interests.”

The work of Maurice Freed is represented in private collections here and abroad.  He exhibited widely in solo and group shows at such places as La Boutique d’Art in Nice, the Newman Contemporary Art Gallery, the Philadelphia Art Alliance, the Woodmere Art Museum, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, the Chicago Art Institute and Butler Institute.  He was the recipient of many awards and prizes, the last of which was presented in April 1981, from the Woodmere Art Museum (Philadelphia, PA) just four months before his death.

The Maurice Freed Memorial Prize (for oil and/or mixed media) was established in 1981 and is awarded annually at the Woodmere Art Museum Annual Juried Exhibition.

Pitz, Henry. February 1962. “Maurice Freed, Painter.” American Artist. Pages 42-47, (continued p. 67).