Minna Citron Biography

Minna Citron

American

1896-1991

Biography

A painter and printmaker, Minna Citron was born in Newark, New Jersey, on October 15, 1896. In 1924, she began studying painting under Benjamin Kopman at the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences. After that she spent three years studying at the New York School of Applied Design for Women from which she graduated with honors. In 1928 she enrolled at Art Students' League. There, her primary mentor and strong early influence was Kenneth Hayes Miller, the leader of what was often called “the 14th Street School,” home to such artists as Reginald Marsh, Edward Laning, Rafael Soyer, and Isabel Bishop.

Like many of her fellow 14th-Street artists during the 1930s, she painted numerous scenes of Union Square where she had her studio. The Daumier-influenced Citron tended to observe Union Square humanity and society in general, with a humorous eye, satire being her favorite mode of expression. Femininities (1935), one of her first solo exhibitions, was typical of her witty style as she depicted women in unflattering situations; "Beauty Culture," for example, mocks the vanity of beauty parlor patrons, who seem virtually imprisoned by their hair-dryers.

With the growth of government-sponsored art in the late 1930s, Citron's artistic interests evolved from satire to social awareness. Employed by the Work Projects Administration Federal Art Project in New York City, she taught painting from 1935 to 1937, and between 1938 and 1942 she traveled to Tennessee, enthusiastically creating Tennessee Valley Authority murals at the Newport and Manchester post offices. She also painted a series of Tennessee Valley scenes, which she exhibited at Manhattan's Midtown Galleries.

Citron was drawn to printmaking in the early 1940s after seeing the works of Stanley William Hayter, whose Atelier 17 had been forced to relocate from Paris to New York City due to World War II.
Citron spent much time at the Atelier 17, learning new techniques and embarking upon her own innovations. She combined the deliberate with the accidental, for example, happily exploiting the opportunity a broken etching plate provided to recreate a design. Her goal was to find “an actual third dimension in painting as well as printmaking.” Toward this end, she piled on paint and varnish, creating raised surfaces on her canvases or plates. Later, she began cutting into the surfaces. Her art became progressively more abstract, thanks in part to her continuing association with Atelier 17, which she visited often after it was moved back to France at the war's end.

In the 1950s she exhibited a series of experimental prints at the Peter Deitsch Gallery in a show titled The Uncharted Course, which showed the journey of a plate through several incarnations made possible by breakage, other accidental effects, and Citron's own creative energy. Her work is represented in the collections of in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Modern Art, National Gallery of Art, Library of Congress, New York Public Library, Victoria  and Albert Museum and the Art Institute of Chicago.

On her ninetieth birthday she was honored at Rutgers University's Douglass College Library. The celebration, a part of the library's 'Women Artists Series', included a retrospective of Citron's work. "Models of Persistence" was the show's theme, which the ebullient Citron epitomized as she continued to create and display works of art into her nineties. Citron died in New York City on December 23, 1991, at the age of ninety-five.

Source:
Jules and Nancy Heller, "North American Women Artists of the Twentieth Century," by Cynthia Lee Kerfoot.