Philip Pearlstein is an influential American painter best known for Modernist Realism nudes. Cited by critics as the preeminent figure painter of the 1960s to 2000s, he led a revival in realist art. He is a Distinguished Professor Emeritus with paintings in the collections of over 70 public art museums.
During the 1950s Pearlstein exhibited abstract expressionist landscape paintings. Around 1958 he began to attend weekly figure drawing sessions at the studio of Mercedes Matter. In 1961 Pearlstein began to make paintings of nude couples based upon his drawings, and in 1962 he began painting directly from the model in a less painterly and more realistic style. In so doing, he demonstrated that figurative realism could once again be made into a vital art form. In an article published in Arts Magazine in April, 1963, Sidney Tillim wrote that "[Pearlstein] has not only regained the figure for painting; he has put it behind the plane and in deep space without recourse to nostalgia (history) or fashion (new images of man) ... He paints the nude not as a symbol of beauty and pure form but as a human fact—implicitly imperfect".
Pearlstein's early landscape paintings—usually rock-strewn hillsides in which every angle, shadow, and shape was seen with a clinical clarity—foreshadow his treatment of the nude as a natural phenomenon devoid of any identity other than the attributes of sex and skin color. Before modernism, painting and sculpture presented the human body in every conceivable pose and situation sanctioned by history, religion, or mythology, but the twentieth century brought a new method of comprehending what we see as form for its own sake. In Pearlstein's paintings, the human body, placed in a corner of a floodlighted studio, assumes a new range of plastic realities, as the mass and weight of the body are emphasized in the unstudied character of the pose. The point of view frequently results in radical cropping of the figure at the edge of the canvas. The painting Models With Mirror is an example of Pearlstein's concern for the body as form.
Pearlstein's work is in over seventy museums collections in the United States, including the Art Institute of Chicago, The Cleveland Museum of Art, the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Museum of Modern Art and Whitney Museum of American Art amongst others. The Milwaukee Art Museum honored him with a retrospective exhibition in 1983 and accompanied the exhibition with a monograph on his complete paintings. He recently showed at the Century Association, New York; Frye Art Museum, Seattle; Galerie Haas, Zurich; and Galerie Haas & Fuchs, Berlin, Germany.
Since the mid-1950s Pearlstein has received several awards, most recently, the National Council of Arts Administrators Visual Artist Award; The Benjamin West Clinedinst Memorial Medal, The Artists Fellowship, Inc., New York, NY; and honorary doctorate degrees from Brooklyn College, NY, Center for Creative Studies and the College of Art & Design, Detroit, MI, and New York Academy of Arts, New York, NY. Pearlstein is a former President of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. In 1988 he was elected into the National Academy of Design.