Mary Abbott always felt she was born to lead an artful life. Born in New York City in 1921, she was the great, great, great granddaughter of John Adams, the second president of the United States. Her family was not in politics, but rather her mother, Elizabeth Grinnell, was a poet and Hearst columnist, who clearly supported her artistic daughter’s ambitions.
Abbott was interested in art from and early age and studied with painters such as George Grosz at the Art Students League and Eugene Weiss from the Corcoran Museum School. In 1941, Abbott, who was a stunning woman, came out as a debutante at the Colony Club and became the belle of Manhattan. As a working model she appeared on the covers of Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, among others. She married and continued painting and studying throughout the War years.
In 1946, separated from her husband, Abbott set up a studio on Tenth Street in Manhattan. After meeting Willem de Kooning, whose studio was nearby, she became romantically involved with de Kooning and remained close with him until his death. At that time, she also enrolled in an experimental New York school and worked with founding artists Robert Motherwell, Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman, William Baziotes and David Hare. Through these associations Abbott moved into the heart of the New York avant-garde, becoming a member of the Artist’s Club, where she was one of only a few female members along with Perle Fine and Elaine de Kooning. Also in the early 1950’s, Abbott began to exhibit extensively with shows at celebrity galleries, including the Stable Gallery, Kootz, Tibor de Nagy, Tanager, and in three of the famous Stable Gallery Annuals.
Abbott and her second husband spent winters in Haiti and the U.S. Virgin Islands where the tropical environment influenced her many beautiful and inventive abstractions. Abbott was always serious about her painting career and declared her life’s work was “using the medium, paint, color and line [to define] the poetry of living space.” In 2016, Abbott was included in the game-changing exhibition, “Women of Abstract Expressionism” organized by the Denver Art Museum.
With her death at the age of 98 in August of 2019, she was one of the last survivors of the original AbEx generation. She left behind a legacy of bright, color infused work full of her characteristic sweeping and energetic brushwork. Today Mary Abbott’s work is represented by McCormick Gallery in Chicago.