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The Art of JAMA |

Slaughterhouse Ruins at Aledo  Gertrude Abercrombie

Thomas B. Cole, MD, MPH
JAMA. 2014;311(9):884-885. doi:10.1001/jama.2013.279362.
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By all accounts, the American painter Gertrude Abercrombie (1909-1997) was one of a kind. She wore a pointy hat and drove a Rolls-Royce automobile that she could not afford. She was unabashedly egocentric; her paintings, she said, were all about herself and her inner life. The images were dreamy and mysterious: a woman running through the woods at night, a girl with an owl, a swimming horse, a ruined slaughterhouse … simple and a little strange, she said. Her icons were ladders, cats, and brooms. She drank heavily and entertained often, hosting all-night jam sessions in her home. She was self-critical and often had the blues, but her friends, a misfit assortment of writers and itinerant musicians, found her enchanting. The jazz pianist Richie Powell based the rhythm of his composition "Gertrude's Bounce" on the way she walked (a 1956 recording by the Clifford Brown/Max Roach Quintet featuring Powell on piano can be found at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uNFlZVcXY6Y), and the novelist James Purdy modeled the title character of his novel Gertrude of Stony Island Avenue on her larger-than-life persona.

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Gertrude Abercrombie (1909-1977), Slaughterhouse Ruins at Aledo, 1937, American. Oil on canvas. 50.9 × 61 cm. Courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum (http://americanart.si.edu/), Washington, DC; gift of the Gertrude Abercrombie Trust 1978.146.1. Photo credit: Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC/Art Resource, New York, New York.

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