George Tooker

born New York City 1920-died Hartland, VT 2011
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George Tooker, 1965, © Peter A. Juley & Son Collection, Smithsonian American Art Museum J0002235
Also known as
  • George Claire Tooker
New York, New York, United States
Hartland, Vermont, United States
Active in
  • Malaga, Spain
  • American

Painter. He studied with Reginald Marsh and Kenneth Hayes Miller at the Art Students League and later with Paul Cadmus. To achieve his haunting scenes of urban isolation and mechanization, Tooker employs the Renaissance egg termpera technique.

Joan Stahl American Artists in Photographic Portraits from the Peter A. Juley & Son Collection (Washington, D.C. and Mineola, New York: National Museum of American Art and Dover Publications, Inc., 1995)

Artist Biography

Having completed his English degree at Harvard, Tooker went to New York in 1943 to study at the Art Students League, where he worked for two years with Reginald Marsh. Like his friends Jared French and Paul Cadmus, Tooker paints in egg tempera and borrows compositional arrangements from the Renaissance Italians, but his thematic ties are with the existential ideas of Jean-Paul Sartre and Samuel Beckett. Many of Tooker's paintings contain a strong element of implicit social comment, and he creates silent theaters in which reality is transformed into deadeningly repetitive drama. He uses precise, geometric architectural structures as backdrops for his protagonists, who often appear as shrouded, shapeless masses contained within boxes or cubicles. Human isolation, self-alienation, and spiritually void rituals are recurring themes in his work.

Virginia M. Mecklenburg Modern American Realism: The Sara Roby Foundation Collection (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press for the National Museum of American Art, 1987)

Luce Artist Biography

George Tooker learned to paint from a local Long Island artist when he was just seven years old. He studied English literature, then joined the Marine Corps, but after an illness forced him to leave the service he decided to enter the Art Students League in New York. He befriended the painter Paul Cadmus, who encouraged him to use the classical medium of egg tempera. In 1950, Tooker and his lover, fellow artist William Christopher, rented an illegal loft in an unfashionable area of town, painting and making furniture in order to survive. After a few years, they moved to Vermont and spent their summers in Malaga, Spain. Tooker creates detailed paintings based on his own experiences that often evoke erotic, nightmarish worlds. (Garver, George Tooker, 1985)


Media - 1986.6.100 - SAAM-1986.6.100_2 - 135134
Modern American Realism: Highlights from the Sara Roby Foundation Collection
October 20, 2018November 28, 2018
This exhibition presents some of the most treasured paintings and sculpture from SAAM’s permanent collection, including artworks by Will Barnet, Isabel Bishop, Paul Cadmus, Edward Hopper, Yasuo Kuniyoshi, Jacob Lawrence, George Tooker, among others.
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Artist to Artist
October 1, 2021May 18, 2025
Artist to Artist features paired artworks, each representing two figures whose trajectories intersected at a creatively crucial moment, whether as student and teacher, professional allies, or friends.

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