George Overbury "Pop" Hart was born in Cairo, IL, May 10, 1868. Little is documented about him before he commenced formal studies at the Art Institute of Chicago (AIC). He remained at the AIC for three years from 1894-1897 and moved briefly at the Academie Julian in Paris in 1907.
During the first two decades of the twentieth century Hart was also a central figure in the Fort Lee, New Jersey artists' colony and counted among his close friends such important artists as Jules Pascin, Walt Kuhn, Edward Hopper and Arthur B. Davies. During this time Hart also associated with different members of the New York Social Realist group of artists including Henri and Sloan.
Hart traveled often to exotic destinations such as North Africa, Tahiti, the West Indies and Mexico. Hart's favorite choice of medium, watercolor, suited his proclivity to paint en plein air in a spontaneous, free-flowing style. While Hart experimented with impressionism, Post Impressionism, Modernism, Social Realism and other aesthetics his stylistic approach was both innovative and progressive.
In 1921, he began printmaking, working in drypoint, lithographs, and etching. He prized spontaneity in his work and while few may associate graphic work such as printmaking as being spontaneous, Hart was able to capture the moment within these works by his bold contrast of lights and darks and his simplified use of lines. Of all the styles and mediums Hart chose to employ none were more innovative and fresher than his work in watercolor. "Hart used a fairly radical method of layering paint in loose, watery strokes, allowing his passages to drip and blend together in an accidental manner. During his own day, Hart, along with John Marin and Charles Burchfield was regarded as a leading figure in American Watercolor."
He was a member of the American Watercolor Society; New York Watercolor Club; Brooklyn Society of Etchers; Salons of America; Society of Independent Artists and others. He won various awards including Etching prize, Brooklyn Society of Etchers, 1923-1924; first prize, watercolor, Palisade Art Association, Englewood, NJ, 1924; bronze medal, Sesquicentennial Exposition, Philadelphia, 1926 and others. His work can also be found in major museums in the United States and abroad. A bust of him by Reuben Nakian is in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City donated as a gift compliments of Mrs. John D. Rockefeller, Jr. He died in New York City in 1933. *
Pop Hart in Tahiti
George Overbury arrived in Papeete,Tahiti in July of 1903, less than two months after Paul Gauguin died on the island of Hivaoa in the Marquesas. By this time, quite a few artists and authors had gone to Tahiti. Both Herman Melville and Robert Louis Stevenson spent a great deal of time there and had based best selling novels on their experiences in the South Seas. La Farge’s and Gauguin’s works from Tahiti were becoming known and La Farge had already published some accounts of his time spent in the South Seas. Finally, a prevailing interest in the exotic in the United States, combined with “Pop” Hart’s wanderlust made Hart’s choice to go to Tahiti a natural one.
While Gauguin abhorred Tahiti’s civilized and corrupt ways, “Pop” Hart was able to transcend the politics and see an island which bore greater resemblance to Loti’s Tahiti. Like Gauguin, Hart had expected to find a land where money was not necessary, where food was “For the picking from the trees and plenty of fishing…” He wrote fellow artist Charles Sarka after arriving in Tahiti, “I pity you up North in the snow and cold. No tourists or beggars here… Bring along some spoon hooks and I’ll show you how to catch some fish.” When Sarka joined his friend, he too, found the same paradise where the sky was intensely blue, the trade winds blew in a constant cool breeze, ripened fruit was plentiful, there were no pollutants, and the natives welcomed the visitor with heralded hospitality”.
Rather than painting the South Sea landscape and seascape as many had done before him, Hart concentrated upon figural compositions. Sarka later wrote that he and Hart painted images of the people whenever possible and when it was not possible, they painted landscapes. Gregory Gilbert in his monograph on Hart, speculates that Hart looked to La Farge’s South Sea watercolors as models. Quite possibly they were models for Hart’s application of broad washes of watercolor; however, while Hart concentrated on depicting the natives of Tahiti, turning to landscape only when he had to, La Farge chose the landscape, turning to figural work only occasionally. Hart loved Tahiti from the minute he arrived; La Farge did not, but always thought the landscape beautiful. Although Hart was not as effective as La Farge in depicting the power of the mountains or the tranquility of the seas, he was able to show the gentility of the natives in their natural habitats whether it was a woman playing music by lantern light or a woman washing clothes in a tropical stream.**
*Artist biography by Blake Benton Fine Art
**Marilyn Kushner, The Lure of Tahiti, Excerpted from Exhibition catalog for 1988 Exhibition at Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers UniversityRead More