Janet Sobel (1893-1968) was born in the Ukraine. After her father was killed in a Russian pogrom her mother moved the family to the United States in 1908. Sobel was married with five children before she began her first painting in 1937. Often working in her living room Sobel produced both figurative and abstract paintings which her art educated son recognized as worthy of being seen by art world professionals so he brought her work to Max Ernst, Andre Breton, John Dewey and Sidney Janis. Peggy Guggenheim considered Sobel to be one of the best American women painters of the time and exhibited her work at Art of This Century gallery in 1945 and 1946.
Using imagery alternately from her memories of her traumatic childhood, which were increased by the events of World War II and also her love of nature and music, the expressionist style Sobel employed was reminiscent of Naïve art and Ukranian Folk Art.
Sobel’s work was described by the philosopher, John Dewey, in a catalogue for her exhibition at Puma Gallery in 1944:
Her work is extraordinarily free from inventiveness and from self-consciousness and pretense. One can believe that to an unusual degree her forms and colors well up from a subconsciousness that is richly stored with sensitive impressions received directly from contact with nature, impressions which have been reorganized in figures in which color and form are happily wed.
Sobel is perhaps best known for influencing Jackson Pollock with her expressionist, all over drip paintings, which Pollock saw before he made his own. Clement Greenberg commented in his diary at the time that Pollock had been impressed with the all-over drip patterning they had seen in Sobel’s paintings. This all-over effect is also evident in her figurative works.
The artist’s work is in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art, among other major museums. She is now often exhibited next to Pollock.