Esteban Vicente

Esteban Vicente was born in Turégano, Spain in 1903. His father served in the Civil Guard, a police force in the Castile region and was an amateur painter who took the young Vicente with him on visits to the Prado Museum. In 1918, Vicente entered military school, but left after three months. At fifteen years old, Vicente began at the School of Fine Arts of the Real Academia de San Fernando in Madrid. As a young man living in Madrid, Barcelona, and Paris, he developed friendships with artists and writers. In 1928, he had his first exhibition with Juan Bonafé at the Ateneo de Madrid. Vicente left Europe for New York City in 1936. The United States would become the artist’s permanent home, and he was greatly influenced by the peace of his Bridgehampton farmhouse with his studio in the converted barn and his garden full of colorful flowers.


Throughout his career Vicente’s work has been atmospheric and has frequently employed colors that hearken back to the sunny colors of Spain. The yellows and reds contrast with cool greens, and blend with earthy ochres, umbers, and languid pinks. The loose exploratory style is immediately recognizable as the Abstract Expressionism of the New York School. Within his compositions are familiar shapes, often fragmented by adumbrated edges. His abstract pieces are sometimes architectonic and sometimes geographic in nature but usually identifiable by their palettes.


The nuances of color are almost always the primary communicators in his work. Inspired by frequent childhood trips to the Prado, Vicente knew from an early age that he’d like to be an artist. Vicente found comradery and friendship in other great painters such as Jackson Pollack and Willem de Kooning (their 10th Street studios were on a shared floor) and was sometimes spied with them at the legendary Cedar Bar, a Greenwich Village haunt of artists. He was a member of the New York School of painters and is the namesake for PS 107X: The Esteban Vicente Early Childhood School in the Bronx. Vicente helped organize and participated in the famed 9th Street show, an historic invitational held in Greenwich Village in 1951 that solidified Abstract Expressionism in the American art canon.


Esteban Vicente spent much of his career teaching. He was among the faculty at Black Mountain College, Black Mountain, NC, the New York Studio School of Drawing, Painting and Sculpture, New York, NY, and the University of California, Berkeley, CA, among other institutions. He was also the artist in residence at Princeton University, and the Honolulu Academy of Fine Arts. In 1991, Vicente received the gold medal in Fine Arts from King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia of Spain at the Prado Museum. In addition, he received numerous other awards, some of them being the most prestigious given to an artist in the United States. In 2011, the Grey Art Gallery at New York University organized a career retrospective featuring collages, paintings and small-scale assemblages showcasing his talent as both a painter and a sculptor. His works can be found in important collections and museums such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY; The Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY; the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY; and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, NY, among others.


At the end of his life, the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo Esteban Vicente, a museum in his honor, was opened in Segovia by the Spanish government. Vicente attended the museum’s opening in 1998. Vicente died at the age of 97 in 2001 in Bridgehampton, NY, ten days before his 98th birthday. He had a long and prosperous career, living and working with multiple generations of artists and painting well into his 90s at his home in Bridgehampton.