Wood Gaylor was an American artist known for his colorful canvases of festive soirees and social gatherings, painted in flatly rendered and highly stylized shapes that belie their New York-centric sophistication. His work appeared in the influential 1913 Armory Show, as well as many other salon and gallery exhibitions at the start of the twentieth century. A darling of critics who compared him to “an American Bruegel,” Gaylor was a contemporary of artists Isabel Bishop, Walt Kuhn, Reginald Marsh, Kenneth Hayes Miller and Florine Stettheimer, who he portrayed in his charming and colorful compositions of dancing figures at costume balls and galas, including K.H.M.’s Birthday Party, 1933 (Neuberger Museum of Art, Purchase College, State University of New York) and Dancing Lessons with Walt Kuhn, c.1919 (Fleming Museum of Art, University of Vermont, Burlington). He incorporated other Manhattan scenes in a more socially conscious way, as in Fourteenth Street, a scene painting of New York in 1917 depicting sweatshop laborers and seamstresses toiling in a redbrick factory above a crowded market packed with well-heeled businessmen and ladies of leisure.
In 1915, Gaylor became a member of the short-lived Cooperative Mural Workshop run by Katherine Dreier of Société Anonyme fame (co-founded by Man Ray and Marcel Duchamp) and later joined the Penguin Club with other artists such as Kuhn, who also sought to reject the conservative aesthetics of the National Academy. In the 1920s and 30s, he showed work in many group exhibitions throughout New York City, and had a solo exhibition at the historic Downtown Gallery in 1932. Wood Gaylor did not actively exhibit during the late 1930s or 1940s and held his final one person show in 1950. The following decade, there was renewed interest in works by the Artist, and Zabriskie Gallery mounted a retrospective exhibition of Gaylor’s paintings and works on paper in 1963. His work continued to appear in other group exhibitions, with a second retrospective held in 1979. Most recently, the Heckscher Museum of Art presented Wood Gaylor and American Modernism (January 23 – May 23, 2021) with two dozen works by the Artist, including works on loan from the Smith College Museum of Art, the Ogunquit Museum of American Art, the Portland Museum of Art in Maine, and the Whitney Museum of American Art.
In her review of the exhibition for The New York Times, art critic Roberta Smith observed how the Artist was at the forefront of seminal events “which jump-started American modernism” and wrote, “Gaylor…who is only now finding his place in art history, participated in all these developments and he recorded many of them in bright, antic faux-naïve oil paintings of carefully outlined figures and settings. Roughly a century after they were made, these ebullient, densely populated scenes – a hybrid of folk art, modern art and documentary – form the beating heart of the artist’s first museum retrospective at the Heckscher Museum of Art.”