Gertrude Abercrombie's second husband Frank Sandiford was a cat burglar. In The Courtship, painted the year after the couple married, the artist depicted him in a mask, as if he were robbing her. "I was the last thing he ever stole," Abercrombie told her daughter Dinah (from her first marriage to Robert Livingston).
Abercrombie rarely painted men, although Abraham Lincoln made occasional appearances in her paintings. The Courtship includes many elements that the artist frequently used in her work: the moon, owls, shells, and lighthouses were common symbols, and she often included self-portraits. It is also rendered in her signature airless, austere style and carefully controlled palette—the red cloud matches her dress. The resulting work creates a mood that resembles more of a surrender than a wooing. She was crazy about Frank at first, and supported him, but later became disappointed in the relationship, and the couple divorced in 1966.
—Susan Weininger, Professor emerita at Roosevelt University, as told to Lisa Meyerowitz
The Courtship and other works by Gertrude Abercrombie are on view in the exhibition Surrealism: The Conjured Life, through June 5, 2016.