Joyce Treiman (American, 1922-1991)

Treiman was known for injecting nineteenth-century French painting into twentieth-century Modernism. She was influenced by Edgar Degas’s steep planes, Pierre Bonnard’s use of color, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec’s theatricality. Treiman worked against the grain of the popular 1940s American form of Abstract Expressionism to instead reference the hazy brushstrokes and realism of French Impressionism. Her paintings reveal her acute observation and attention to human behavior, humor, compassion, anger, fear, and despair.

Treiman’s paintings of Jokers became a recurring motif once she received a diagnosis of lung cancer, shifting from portraits of the bourgeois to morbid and perverse scenes of death. In Joker and Me, she paints herself as a leading performer on stage while her co-star, The Joker, dances front-and-center. The contrast in mood between the two figures could not be more pronounced with Treiman’s child-like frown. Her work is psychological and autobiographical while also containing elements of the surreal and whimsy. 

Treiman attended Stephens College in Columbia, Missouri, and then the State University of Iowa under influential painter Philip Guston. During World War II, she worked as a commercial artist until she became successful enough for gallery exhibitions and later moved to Los Angeles. Today her work is owned by prominent institutions such as the Whitney Museum of American Art and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; and Los Angeles County Museum of Art.