American, 1926-2019

"A Lesson From Vincent"

mixed media (painted wood, oil on canvas, fibers)
initialed on the canvas, lower right "L.J.", signed on the reverse of the canvas "Leo Jensen"
figure: h. 77 inches / canvas: 60 1/2 x 48 1/4 inches

  • Provenance: The artist; Private Collection, Connecticut

    Leo Jensen is the only American artist who actually grew up in the circus. He became a Pop Art
    pioneer in the early 1960s, and was the first to create kinetic Pop sculpture. His work represents
    a fascinating and truly unique chapter in the history of American Art.

    Leo Vernon Jensen was born in 1926 in Minnesota. When the Great Depression began it became clear to Jensen's father that his career as a cabinet-maker was not going to support his family and he decided to become a circus promoter. Young Leo became a trick rider on horses while experimenting with making art from empty cartons and colorful items he found on the circus grounds as well as painting the circus wagons and banners.

    When Leo turned fourteen in 1940, his family moved closer to Minneapolis. In 1948, at twenty-two,
    Jensen submitted two of his paintings to the Minneapolis Art Institute of Art's Twin City Annual.
    The judges were Max Weber and Alexander Calder. Both works were accepted and this inspired Leo to move to New York to become a window designer and soon after the company moved him to New Haven Connecticut.

    In 1952 Jensen's sculpture made its first New York appearance, in a group show at the Creative
    Gallery on 57th Street. The next year the gallery gave him his first soloexhibition. Throughout the 1950s and 60s, his sculptures became recognized and were described as fantastical.

    On one occasion in 1962 he parked on Madison Avenue, unpacked his seven-and-a- half-foot kinetic Baseball Machine, and set it up on the sidewalk. It caught the attention of Allan Stone, who asked him to set it up in his gallery. Willem De Kooning, who was in the gallery that day, exclaimed, "That makes my painting look like mashed potatoes!" and the two went in to become good friends. Jensen was also friendly with a number of New York painters, including John Wesley, Roy Lichtenstein, James Rosenquist and Tom Wesselman.

    Jensen's breakout solo exhibition came in 1964 at the Amel Gallery on Madison Avenue. Amel showed Jensen from 1962 until it closed around 1967. During this period conversations about Pop Art often included Jensen's name with Lichtenstein, Warhol, and Wesselman. And in 1966 Jensen was featured in Lucy Lippard's seminal book, Pop Art.

    In 1967 the New Britain Museum of American Art gave Jensen a solo exhibition. By the 1970s Jensen could claim his work had been exhibited in 64 countries.

    In 1996 Jensen created in Eastern Connecticut what would become one of the state's most beloved tourist attractions. The Jillson Hill Bridge spans the Willimantic River (a tributary to the Thames River). At both sides of the bridge two 22-foot tall bronze frogs with gilded eyes are perched atop bases of giant spools of thread. The huge 3,000-pound frogs, which were installed to great fanfare, continue to surprise unsuspecting motorists. Jensen enjoyed three solo museum exhibitions; at the New Britain Museum of American Art (1967), the Mattatuck Museum (1990), and the Amarillo Museum of Art (2010). He has been included in nearly thirty museum group exhibitions, including the Minneapolis Art Institute, the Butler Institute of American Art (Youngstown, Ohio), the Institute of Contemporary Art (Boston), the Yale University Art Gallery, the National Art Museum of Sport, and the National Portrait Gallery.

    Unique in his approach to art, Jensen was never concerned about fitting in with either the "New York School" or the "Beat Generation." Throughout his life he remained the artist whose purpose was to amaze and delight the crowd. True to his roots, he drew inspiration from the Circus, the rodeo, and the visual vocabulary of American primitive. After all, he concluded, "to move the heart and lift the spiritis magical."

    Tags: mixed media, sculpture, Pop Art, listed artist, 20th century, modern / contemporary, Vincent Van Gogh, Starry Night
  • Condition: in excellent original condition

    We are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Shannon’s is merely a subjective qualified opinion. Frames on all paintings are sold "As Is". Frames may need some conservation. 

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April 27, 2023 6:00 PM EDT
Milford, CT, US


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