Yvonne Jacquette, whose studies from a bird’s-eye view reimagined the world as a tapestry of texture and color, died on April 23. She was 88. The news was confirmed by New York’s DC Moore Gallery, her representative since 1995.
“A prominent figure in the New York art world, [Jacquette] was known for her expansive aerial views of cities and landscapes that documented the rapidly changing environments across the country, including scenes of New York and Maine,” the gallery said in a statement.
Throughout her career, Jacquette observed, with a Darwinian dedication, the view from an airplane window. There, in the clouds, reality loosens its grip on light and scale; rough swaths of land are flattened, and at night—when she often travelled—cities are clusters of lights skimming a velvet black sea. She crisscrossed continents for those brief glimpses of natural and man-made landscapes, which she often made into watercolors while on board.
In 1975, she charted a private plane in Maine to study its rugged outline; the result, titled Passagassawaukeag I, became her first major aerial painting. Three years later, she made her first nocturnal aerial painting, East River View at Night, based on New York’s East River and FDR Drive. Living in New York, her peers included Alex Katz, Mimi Gross, and Lois Dodd, all of whom played with scale, depth, and light in their direct observations of urban life. Jacquette especially adopted photographic techniques in her painting such as severe crops, close-ups, and off-kilter perspectives.
“What is the point of the aerial view [in Yvonne Jacquette’s paintings]? You can look at it and say, Oh, that’s an aerial view, but there must be more than that,” Vincent Katz wrote in 1984. “There must be a reason this artist has become obsessed with this view of the world. To me, a view from a plane, especially at evening or night, is very romantic. The pretty way the lights glow and all those lives. It’s a distant view, removed, and yet it includes an intimacy of looking into people’s backyards.”
Yvonne Jacquette was born in Pittsburgh in 1934, and grew up in Stamford, Connecticut. She began studying art at the age of 10, and after graduating high school enrolled at the Rhode Island School of Design. Jacquette taught variously at Moore College of Art, the University of Pennsylvania, and Parsons School of Design while maintaining her painting practice. It was during a trip to Maine with fellow painters—Alex Katz, Neil Welliver, Rudy Burckhardt, among others—that she decided to find a style “that was different from all of them.”
“It happened by accident, of course,” she told the Brooklyn Rail in 2008. “I didn’t ever plan it, I was going to visit my parents who had just moved to California and I was in a plane with watercolors and I started to see that the clouds were amazing when you’re right in them.”
Jacquette’s work is included in the collections of major art institutions nationwide, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Brooklyn Museum, the Whitney Museum in New York, and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, DC.
In 2002, Stanford University’s Cantor Center for Visual Arts in California organized a retrospective of Jacquette, which traveled to institutions in Waterville, Maine; Salt Lake City, and Yonkers, New York. A solo show at the Museum of the City of New York came in 2008.
An exhibition dedicated to Jacquette’s work, organized in collaboration with her son Tom Burckhardt and titled “Yvonne Jacquette: Looking Up/Down/Inside/Out,” will open at DC Moore on May 4. Planned as a retrospective, it will now double as a tribute to her memory.