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Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History Essays

Ernest Hemingway (1899–1961) and Art

Ernest Hemingway (1899–1961) (1986.1098.12), the author of many classic works, including In Our Time, The Sun Also Rises, A Farewell to Arms, Green Hills of Africa, For Whom the Bell Tolls, The Old Man and the Sea, and The Garden of Eden, was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature in 1954. During his early years in Paris in the 1920s, the American writer reached what some scholars consider his artistic maturity. New ways of expression and the exchange of ideas between writers, painters, dancers, and philosophers living in the city at this time nurtured the young author, leaving him with lasting impressions for his renowned short stories and novels.

Ernest and his first wife, Hadley, first came to Paris in 1921. Soon after their arrival, they became well acquainted with the other writers and many of the great masters of twentieth-century painting, among them Miró, Masson, Gris, and Picasso, with whom they shared the scene of excitement and budding accomplishment. Gertrude Stein (47.106), who was also living and writing in Paris at this time, was a close friend of Hemingway and a collector of contemporary art. Stein urged the young American writer to study the art that abounded in the city.

In 1925, Ernest and Hadley purchased Joan Miró’s painting The Farm (1921–22), now in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. A few years later, Hemingway wrote an article for Cahiers d’Art about his purchase of the painting and the impact of Miró’s composition on him. This marked the beginning of the writer’s lifelong admiration for and friendship with a number of European and American painters. In 1931, Hemingway and his second wife, Pauline Pfeiffer, purchased The Guitar Player (1926) and The Bullfighter (1913), both by their friend Juan Gris. The latter work would be reproduced as the frontispiece for Hemingway’s treatise on bullfighting Death in the Afternoon (1932). Soon thereafter, Ernest and Pauline acquired a number of paintings by the French Surrealist André Masson, five of which are now in the Ernest Hemingway Collection at the John F. Kennedy Library, Boston.

Throughout his life, Hemingway visited art galleries and museums, some of his favorites being the Prado, the Louvre, the Accademia in Venice, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Metropolitan Museum. Along with his appreciation of European art, he expressed admiration for Winslow Homer and owned works by the American painters Waldo Peirce and Henry Strater. Hemingway wrote commentaries on art and artists, and, in many of his works, referred to paintings by Bruegel (19.164), Bosch, Cézanne (61.101.4), Goya, Homer, and others. In his novel For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940), he gives excruciating accounts of the devastation suffered on both sides during the Spanish Civil War, with many of his passages reading very much like the images depicted by Goya in his series of etchings (32.62.17) titled The Disasters of War (1810–23). In other works, Hemingway comments on Cézanne’s style and way of interpreting the world around him. The author remarked in one interview that he learned as much from painters about how to write as from writers. Painters and their works were integral to Hemingway’s learning to see, to hear, and to feel or not feel. They were part of the writer’s renowned ability to present an image hard, clear, and concentrated, using the language of ordinary speech without vague generalities, as true as a painter’s color.