About Howard Cook

In his lifetime, Howard Norton Cook (1901-1980) developed a national reputation as a painter and muralist. Today, however, he is better known as one of America’s premier printmakers. His printmaking spanned five decades, with his work of the 1920s and 1930s considered to be his finest.

Cook traveled to Mexico in 1932-33 on a Guggenheim Fellowship in order to pursue “a pictorial study of a civilization unaffected by the machine age,” as he wrote in his application . . . “To make a series of drawings and prints in etching, wood-engraving and lithography depicting the people of Mexico, their occupations and crafts, their peaceful and self-reliant lives.” The village of Taxco provided the perfect setting. He and his wife, the artist Barbara Latham, settled there after a brief stay in Mexico City.

By then, Cook had fallen under the spell of the Mexican muralists, especially the work of Diego Rivera, whose aesthetic and stylistic innovations inspired a turning point in Cook’s work. Up to this time, Cook had created mostly abstract cityscapes and some landscape prints, but under the influence of the muralists, he now applied modernist principles to the human figure. During his year and a half in Taxco, he made countless portrait studies from locally hired models and became a keen observer of the colorful village life and its customs. While Cook abstracted his figures into idealized shapes with powerful tonal contrasts, at the same time he maintained a genuine sense of human warmth.

Howard Cook’s artworks are held in a number of important permanent collections including the Brooklyn Museum of Art, the Library of Congress, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Smithsonian Institution, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the Yale University Art Gallery.

Ref.: Janet A. Flint in Duffy, The Graphic Work of Howard Cook: Catalogue Raisonné (1984), pl. 31, p. 36; cat. no. 174.

Howard Cook, Governor’s Palace – El Palacio Real, 1926

Woodcut

8.5 x 8.5 inches (image) • 21.59 x 21.59 cm

signed lower right