Hobson Pittman: The evolving oeuvre of a North Carolina native son

Though Hobson Pittman spent the balance of his life in Pennsylvania, his deep family roots in North Carolina clearly inflected his work, which is sought-after by collectors with ties to both places. In our Important Summer Auction we present a selection of his paintings that were gifted by the artist to the North Carolina Museum of Art. Leland Little Fine Art Director Claire Frasier notes that as "Pittman inspired a generation of American artists through his work and teaching, it is fitting that the sale of these eight pictures will benefit the North Carolina Museum of Art's acquisitions fund, by which means his legacy will further enhance the arts in the state."

Pittman was born in rural North Carolina and spent a quintessentially Southern childhood in Tarboro, replete with long languid days and vast front porches. He was orphaned in 1915 at the age of 16 and was then brought up by two of his several older sisters, first in Tarboro, and then, after graduating high school, in Philadelphia. This move in 1918 was the beginning of Pittman's long artistic and teaching career in Pennsylvania. He was a gifted and beloved art teacher at a number of institutions, including Penn State and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Pittman is best known for his interiors and his still lifes, both of which are represented in our Important Summer Auction. Bouquets of flowers were often the subject of his still life paintings and pastels, as evident by the collection in our auction. At first glance they are beautiful compositions of blooms - with further consideration, deeper layers of meaning are often revealed.
alt
Hobson Pittman (NC/PA, 1899-1972), Poppies

In the later stages of his career Pittman worked with a palette of bright pastels, in contrast to his earlier, darker works. The early still life below is North Carolina Museum of Art curator John Coffey's favorite of the selection, and is indicative of the foreboding tone of Pittman's early work.

alt
Hobson Pittman (NC/PA, 1899-1972), Chalice with Cup Fragments

Pittman is perhaps best known for his interiors, which followed the same dark to light trajectory through the span of his career. His early interiors have a remarkable perspective - they are zoomed out views of quiet tableaus, and the subjects and their surroundings feel very small in the scale of the paintings. The proportion of these interiors shifted in Pittman's later work. He brought the scenes into closer, though often more abstract, focus. Frasier says that "while open doors, windows, and screens were common features in Pittman's earlier interiors, the appearance of mirrors in his later work likely symbolizes the common desire to reflect on one's own story and influence in space and time." Frasier also notes that the number of subjects in the painting below is unusual for Pittman - he more often painted women in solitude, or just the imprint of their recent occupation of a vacated space.
alt
Hobson Pittman (NC/PA, 1899-1972), Ladies, Mirrors

The two mirror paintings in this auction "relate well to a large painting currently in the collection of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art" according to Fraser. Pittman's paintings are exhibited in a number of museums around the country, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Smithsonian American Art Museum. The North Carolina Museum of Art still owns a number of Pittman's works as well, and continues to count him as one of their proud native sons.

Content produced by the Leland Little Editorial Team