Maurice Freedman was a prolific painter who worked quietly from his early years in Boston in the 1920s until his death in 1985. Freedman's body of work belongs to the cubist-inspired American Modernist movement. American Modernism is defined as being born at the New York Armory Show of 1913, where the works of Picasso, Braque, Duchamp, and Rodin were shown in the US for the first time, along with work by their American counterparts.
Freedman was the second of five children, born in Boston's Dorchester neighborhood where his father was a butcher. Expected to seek out a more traditional livelihood, like the rest of his extended family, he discovered his artistic talent at an early age. His family recalled that at the age of four, he was drawing with a bar of Bon Ami soap on a slate sink. During his teens, he traveled New England during the summers as a trumpet player in a jazz band called the Teddy Bears, playing in casinos along the coast of Maine. Freedman studied at both the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, and what has become the Massachusetts College of Art. His friends in school included John Whorf, who made his reputation as a Cape Cod artist and teacher, and fellow painter Henry "Harry" Botkin, a nephew of the Gershwin brothers.
Following Botkin, Freedman left Boston for New York and Paris, both tantalizing magnets to artists intent on helping define the energy of the "Roaring Twenties." In Manhattan, he attended classes at the Art Students League, then the most innovative art school in the US, and also worked as an art director for the Pathé Movie Exchange.
In Paris, he studied with André Lhôte, where he learned to synthesize his traditional academic training with the European trends of Cubism and Expressionism, then considered avante-garde. Critic John Russell observed in a review of Freedman's work in 1982 that Freedman "had learned to draw with a loaded brush, how to handle rich and strong color without letting it get out of hand, and how to give individuality to everyday objects." It was during his second sojourn in Paris in 1930 that he first saw Max Beckmann's psychologically-charged work.
Upon his return to New York, in the doldrums of the Great Depression, Freedman resumed art directing, which provided a steady income that enabled him to continue painting. He gained representation with Midtown Galleries, who handled his work from 1934 until his death. During this time he made painting trips to New Mexico, to Maine, and to Cape Cod, and developed close friendships with Marsden Hartley, John Marin, and Milton Avery, the leading American painters of the previous generation.
Too old for the draft at the beginning of WWII, Freedman designed camouflage and worked with Army intelligence as his contributions to the war effort. He continued to art direct for RCA, and later for the Columbia movie houses. He designed marquees and posters and had a talent for capturing the mood of any picture he was charged with promoting. As Alan Freedman remembers, "He was very facile—he could draw anything." During this time, Freedman also met some of the great movie stars of the era: Douglas Fairbanks, Errol Flynn, and Humphrey Bogart, as well as Kim Novak, Rita Hayworth, and Lana Turner.
From occasional painting trips to the Cape, beginning in the 1930s, Maurice Freedman rented houses in Wellfleet and Truro, as well as Provincetown, throughout his lifetime. The Freedmans alternated trips to Maine and Europe with the Cape.
The late '50s brought them to the East End of Provincetown, where they rented the Hapgood house on Allerton Street, and then painter Maurice Sterne's house, "Levitation," on the harbor. An advantage of the Sterne house was its second floor studio, jutting out from the main house with windows on three sides, which allowed Freedman consistent light throughout the day, as well as a high vantage point from which to observe the waterfront. Alan Freedman recalls that his father "loved the light, loved the landscape: that's why he painted."
The frenetic pace at which Maurice Freedman worked eventually took its toll and he died at the age of 80 in 1985. Alan says, "My Dad just wore himself out. He stuffed enough living into those 80 years that it seemed he was in his 90s." Freedman, like his friend the author Thomas Wolfe, had to leave the confines of his hometown and extended family in order to make his mark on the world. The paintings he left behind document this quest for creative wholeness.
Maurice Freedman was feted with three major shows in 2004, the one hundredth anniversary year of his birth. In July, Greenhut Gallery in Portland, Maine, showed his paintings of the Downeast coast, and in August, the Julie Heller Gallery in Provincetown and the Cape Cod Museum of Art in Dennis showcased his work. The Cape Museum centennial retrospective was curated by Mary Sherman.
[Published in Cape Arts Review, 2004]