Abraham Rattner: Twenty-four plates

Rattner, Abraham.
Weller, Allen S., illustrator.
Abraham Rattner: Twenty-four plates.
Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1956. (12277)

From the Levi A. Olan Collection of Fine Books is a richly illustrated book about the artist Abraham Rattner (1895–1978). The book was created while Rattner was a Visiting Professor of Painting at the University of Illinois. During his time at the university, a comprehensive exhibit of Rattner’s paintings, drawings, and watercolors was organized and presented. Rattner encouraged the idea of the publication with an illustrated introductory essay followed by twenty-four plates.

The essay begins, “Everyone who has looked at the paintings of Abraham Rattner is aware that words are important to him. The form and color of the letters in his distinctive signature are invariably vital compositional accents.” The essay is illustrated with Rattner’s drawings and watercolors as preparatory materials. There is a calligraphic quality to them, an extension of the “technical, critical, autobiographical, and poetic lines.”

Rattner’s paintings are rich in color and often have religious themes. That theme is apparent in the chosen opening, which features a large kneeling figure with outstretched arms, the face open to the sky. On the opposite page are a selection of preparatory drawings, alternatives to the large figure and details of the head and face. The artist talks about the language of form and how he shows an object, without necessarily showing the entire object. The suggestion of form is apparent in Rattner’s artworks as well as emotion conveyed through line quality, line direction, tension, and space.

The additional pages of the introductory text contain introspection by the artist and sensational preparatory drawings. Rattner draws on common themes in addition to biblical themes, such as a drawing of a window cleaner. Other drawings include landscapes and other biblical figures. The twenty-four plates are completed watercolors and drawings, several in color that are reminiscent of a stained glass windows. Rattner notes, “a work of art remains thru man’s changing point of view…It is a human creation…and embodies the mystery, which like Life itself, guards its own secret.”

Abraham Rattner’s artwork is in the collections of the Art Institute of Chicago, The Whitney Museum of American Art, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art to name a few. He lived in Paris from 1920 to 1940 before returning to New York City. Later he taught at The New School, New York (1947–1955) and Yale University (1952–1953).

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Abraham Rattner: Twenty-four plates