Freilicher was best known for expressionistic rural landscapes and cityscapes, which often combined interior still lifes with exterior views. She was one of few women members of the New York School of painters and poets. Her imagery-laden work was both traditional and a departure from the dominant non-representational style of the Abstract Expressionists.
Writings about Freilicher by members of her circle, which included poets Kenneth Koch, John Ashbery and Frank O’Hara and painters Larry Rivers and Grace Hartigan, attest to their deep respect. In 1958, for example, poet James Schuyler remarked that Freilicher was “a poet’s painter who may yet become the public’s painter.” Ashbery, her longtime friend, wrote, “Her pictures always have an air of just coming into being, of tentativeness that is the lifeblood of art.”
In his 1964 poem To Jane; and in imitation of Coleridge, O’Hara wrote:
she half incloses worlds in her eyes,
she moves as the wind is said to blow,
she watches motions of the skies
As if she were everywhere to go.
Born in Brooklyn in 1924, Freilicher attended Brooklyn College and earned her master’s from Columbia University Teachers College. She also studied under Hans Hofmann. For over 50 years, Freilicher took as her subject matter the views from her Greenwich Village apartment and summer home in eastern Long Island.
In a 2009 A.i.A. review of a solo exhibition at Tibor de Nagy, Nick Obourn remarked, “At 84, Jane Freilicher understands more than most painters that the landscape, whether urban or pastoral, is humankind’s living record.”
Freilicher was the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts grant and an Academy of the Arts Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2005, the American Academy of Arts and Letters recognized her with a gold medal for painting. Freilicher’s works are in the collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, all in New York; the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C.; and the Cleveland Museum of Art. Her archive resides at the Houghton Library at Harvard University.