WERNER DREWES (AMERICAN, 1899-1985) NUDE Watercolor on paper: 23 x 18 1/2 in., 32 1/2 x 28 in. (framed) erner Drewes (1899–1985) was a painter, printmaker, and art teacher. Considered to be one of the founding fathers of American abstraction, he was one of the first artists to introduce concepts of the Bauhaus school within the United States. His mature style encompassed both nonobjective and figurative work and the emotional content of this work was consistently more expressive than formal. Drewes was as highly regarded for his printmaking as for his painting. In his role as teacher as well as artist he was largely responsible for bringing the Bauhaus aesthetic to America. After Drewes moved to New York, Kandinsky, who was both friend and mentor, continued to exert a strong influence over his style. Later in life he said he had a hard time getting away from Kandinsky's influence as he developed his own style. In time he was able to bring a more emotional approach to his work and to base it, more than Kandinsky did, on natural forms.
In 1930 Drewes had a solo exhibition at the 135th Street Branch of the New York Public Library and a two-person show at the S.P.R. Penthouse Gallery (with Carl Sprinchorn). Also in that year Kandinsky introduced Drewes to Katherine Dreier, co-founder of the Society of Independent Artists and Société Anonyme. In 1931 Drewes participated in the Société Anonyme's exhibition at the Albright Art Center, Buffalo, New York and the Rand School. That year he showed prints and paintings first in a solo- and then in a two-person exhibition at the Morton Gallery (the latter with Herbert Reynolds Kniffin) and he also exhibited in group shows at the American Institute of Graphic Arts, the Brownell-Lamberton Galleries, and the Pynson Printers Galleries. These exhibitions established pattern, as Drewes's work would be shown multiple times a year throughout the 1930s and 1940s.
From the first, Drewes's work captured the attention of the New York critics. A critic for The New York Times called attention to the subtle treatment in cityscape paintings he exhibited in the dual show with Carl Sprinchorn, noting that they "look fragile, as if they were made from reflections of the city in a soap bubble, rather than from life." In reviewing his solo show at the Morton Gallery, another Times critic praised his work as "solid." She said "though the paint is put on in much the same quick fashion," as the cityscapes at S.P.R. Penthouse, "the composition has something that keeps it from breaking as if touched." Of his solo show at the Morton Gallery Margaret Breuning, the critic for the New York Evening Post praised the "crisp vigor" of his portraits, his skill at handling the form and color of a still life, and the "well developed" and "imaginative" choice of viewpoint in a landscape. "One hopes," she wrote, "and confidently expects to see more work from this young artist." In reviewing the dual exhibition with Herbert Reynolds Kniffin, "T.C.L." of the Times called Drewes "an artist of promise" wrote of his "dynamic quality, an apparent fluency and economy of means," and said "he paints with sureness and vigor, with suggestion rather than in detail." Of this exhibition, the critic for the New York Sun wrote, "Mr. Drewes is an imaginative painter who is worth watching. He has emotions and they take hold of him and lead him at times into paintings that are highly unconventional. As a thousand forces are at work in America today trying to make all the artists conform to set patterns, this ability to withstand influences is a distinct asset."
Howard Devree of The New York Times praised the oils, watercolors, and drawings that Drewes showed in his solo exhibition at the Morton Galleries in 1933. He said the works gave the gallery "a radiantly prismatic aspect." He described some of the landscapes as heavily patterned, others as free and impressionistic and considered his drawings to be vigorous.
In 1934 Drewes began a long career as a teacher when he took a position teaching drawing and printmaking at the Brooklyn Museum Art School funded by the Federal Art Project of the Works Progress Administration. He later said he modeled his teaching method on the one that Kandinsky used. Drewes recalled that Kandinsky was a patient and nonjudgmental teacher who would challenge his students to work out their own solutions to non-objective projects he would set and ask them to discuss the reasons behind their choices.
In 1936, the year he became an American citizen, Drewes became a founding member of both the anti-fascist American Artists' Congress and the avant-garde American Abstract Artists group. That year he also was given a ten-year retrospective exhibition at the Uptown Gallery, and participated in group shows held by Société Anonyme (at Black Mountain College in North Carolina) and the Municipal Art Committee of New York.
In 1937 he parti