A painter whose reputation was strongest in the 1930s and 40s, Andree Ruellan lived to be 101 years old, dying on July 15, 2006 in Kingston, New York. For many years she lived near Woodstock in Shady, New York. Ruellan was a child prodigy, whose work, drawings and watercolors of urban street life, first were exhibited when she was age 9 at St. Mark’s in the Bowery, and was encouraged by Robert Henri, painter who advocated Social Realism*. That same year, the editor of The Masses, a progressive, ‘leftist’ magazine, published one of her illustrations.
Eventually she became most known for “sympathetic depictions of scenes from ordinary life, which she observed on the streets of New York and in her travels in the American South.” (Fox) In honor of her 100th birthday in 1905, an exhibition of her work was held at the Columbus Museum in Athens, Georgia, and at the Columbus Museum in Columbus, Georgia.
Andrée Ruellan was born in Manhattan on April 6, 1905 to parents who had emigrated from France. Her father, Andre, was a flyer and airplane mechanic and was killed when she was 15 in an airplane accident. To support herself and her mother, she began selling her artwork, and to get more training, enrolled on a scholarship in the Art Students League*. Her drawing teacher was Maurice Sterne, and Leo Lentelli was her instructor for sculpture.
During much of the 1920s, accompanied by her mother, she lived in Rome, where she had an art scholarship, and then Paris for five years where she studied with Charles Dufresne and Henri de Waroquier and had her first solo exhibition. There she met artist John Williams Taylor (1897-1983), and married him in 1929. Shortly after the couple moved to Shady, New York and were a prominent part of the Woodstock Art Colony*. They also did much travel and painting including in New York City, Paris, in the South, where African-Americans played a large part in her subject matter including Crap Game, which is described as perhaps her “best-known painting”. It depicts black men in Charleston, South Carolina playing dice and on the surface having a good time, but the sombre tone and stark background “convey the straightened circumstances of black life in the Depression Era South.” (Fox) In 1950, André Ruellan received a Guggenheim Fellowship* to do creative painting in Europe.
During part of her career, Ruellan turned to Abstraction*, influenced by Surrealism* and Abstract Expressionism*. However, committed to drawing as well as painting, she stayed with Realism*, “committed to the idea that art should represent solid, flesh-and-blood humanity.” Of her work she said that: “What moves me most is that in spite of poverty and the constant struggle for existence, so much kindness and sturdy courage remain.” (Fox)