Simeon Braguin (1907-1997)

Simeon Braguin was born in Kharköv, Ukraine in 1907. The Braguin family fled Russia in 1917 after the outbreak of the Russian Revolution and moved to New York. This unknown Ukrainian immigrant later became an American war hero, a leader in New York fashion illustration, and ultimately a modern artist who crafted his own unique style of abstract painting.

While taking classes at the Art Students League he fell in love with a fellow student, Lenna Glackens. Lenna was the daughter of William Glackens, one of the leaders of the Ashcan School. Braguin held his first exhibition in 1931 at the Marie Harriman Gallery in Manhattan, helped by William Glackens. This was closely followed by a second show at the Daniel Gallery. During this period of frequent exhibition, Braguin developed skills as an accomplished photographer, to such a high level that he was introduced to Alfred Steiglitz and Georgia O’Keeffe.

Braguin, like many other artists, relied on work in the field of commercial illustration to earn a living during the Great Depression. By 1932 he was a staff illustrator for Vogue, a position which brought him great exposure in the world of fashion. His illustrations appeared in many magazines, and he quickly rose to the role of creative director at Vogue. Braguin combined the playful wire-like lines of Cocteau with the sensuous color shapes of Matisse. The result was a style that was essentially born of the haute couture of the 1930’s Paris.

After the onset of World War II, Braguin assumed an entirely unlikely role in the American armed forces as a spy. In addition to being multilingual (speaking Ukrainian, French, Italian, and English) Braguin was also photographer making him the perfect fit for the Office of Strategic Services. His reconnaissance photographs proved essential to the success of many Allied bombing missions.

Braguin and Lenna Glakens had been engaged during the 1930’s, but before they could marry Lenna died tragically in South America. Braguin later married Janet Chatfied Taylor, who was the fashion editor of Vogue. During the 1950’s Braguin rejoined Vogue again as the artistic director and remained there for many years. Braguin passed along his knowledge and artistic insight to a young and then unknown disciple named Andy Warhol. Warhol had arrived in New York in 1949 and was commissioned for many projects by Braguin.

During the 1960’s the Braguins began summering in Essex, Connecticut a major sailing center situated on the Connecticut River. In 1968, the couple bought a modest cottage in Essex and it was here that Braguin returned to painting. His translated his passion for sailing in a group of paintings titles the “Essex Harbor Series.”

Simeon Braguin, image courtesy of the Findlay Institute

By the 1980s Braguin’s painting style had matured greatly, and he was soon discovered by Helen Thomas, a curator of the Yale University Art Gallery. A few years later, the Yale Art Gallery organized an impressive solo exhibition of the artists’ work. His later paintings are marked by carefully balanced geometric shapes, painted in unique hues of pastel color.

Simeon Braguin died at the age of 90, on November 9, 1997. Quietly and privately, he produced an enormous body of work throughout his career. He left a bequest to the Yale Art Gallery of more than eight million dollars.

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