art for everyone. every monday morning.
74.7 W.Barnet 28x16.jpg

Will Barnet • American: 1911 - 2012

SoliloquySilkscreen on Paper 13-3/4” x 26-1/2”

At the age of 41 Will Barnet’s wife told him his daughters weren’t his. It happened during a bitter divorce and just a few years after Barnet reinvented his art by focusing more on his family life. “My family gave me the freedom to be an artist.” Some of his greatest works, including Summer Family featured his three sons, two daughters and first wife, noted painter Mary Sinclair. To him, reality was what he knew and he knew his family, or so he thought. “They’re so much a part of me. I could take liberties with them that I couldn’t take with those I’m not familiar with.” 

Then his reality went poof. In 1952 Sinclair left him for a doctor (who painted). Late in life she confided to a friend that she had lied about her daughter’s parentage to stop Will from following her around like a love-sick puppy. But the damage was done and would not be corrected for almost a half century, if ever.

Fortunately, Barnet had a remarkable ability to reinvent himself and his art. In 1953 Barnet married another woman, Elena Ciurlys, a modern dancer from Lithuania. Their daughter, Ona, appeared in many of his paintings, including Soliloquy at the Canton Museum of Art.

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This painting represents his best-known style. It recalled the realistic paintings of his early career, before he explored more abstract styles. In a pattern of reinvention, Barnet repeatedly moved between representational and abstract art. The style seen here is precisely structured, using flattened images and leaving little room for interpretation “I was looking for structure in a period that was destroying structure.” This might be why he fought so hard against the Abstract Expressionist art that dominated during much of his life.

Barnet often reinvented his family and artistic career. The two were intertwined. He lived a long time thinking his daughters weren’t really his. Perhaps his journey through so many different artistic styles was a search for what he could depend on to be real.

Canton Museum of Art Permanent Collection • Purchased by the Canton Museum of Art 74.7


4 Ways to Sound Smart When Viewing at The Canton Museum of Art

“Will Barnet lived to be 101 and enjoyed an art career spanning eight decades and 10 major art movements. He was a one-man Art History 101 class.”

“As a child, he painted self-portraits in his parents’ basement, imitating Rembrandt’s style. Perhaps this was the 1920s version of a ‘selfie’.”

“This guy painted in so many different styles that it’s sometimes hard to recognize his work. This was his best known style.”

“He received the National Medal of Arts Award from President Barack Obama. At age 100. He didn’t have long to brag about it, dying later that year.”


Barnet Timeline. Scroll over images to see timeline.