"Tenant House II" by William Christenberry

William Christenberry (b. 1936)
Tenant House II
Oil on canvas
79½ x 77¾ inches
Museum purchase; 1993.007

The large scale of this early work by William Christenberry, its chaotic surface, bold colors, and abstract forms show the influence of abstract expressionism. Abstract expressionism, which developed in New York City in the mid-1940s, became fully established during the 1950s at the time when Christenberry completed his art training.

In this painting, what first appears to be a jumble of colors, shapes, and textures is actually a tightly cropped view of a house set in a simple landscape. The overhead blue sky and the brightness of the grass frame the house with its rectangular, darkened doorway, red walls, sagging porch, and heavy black roof.

Tenant House II was inspired by the house of the Tingles, a family of sharecroppers who lived next door to Christenberry's grandparents in Hale County, Alabama. The artist had first discovered the Tingles while reading a 1941 publication, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, by James Agee and Walker Evans. He revisited the sites described in the book and discovered that subjects closest to his heart, including his Alabama heritage, could be the inspiration for his painting.