Jeremiah Goodman, 94, renowned for portraits of interiors - The Buffalo News

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Jeremiah Goodman, 94, renowned for portraits of interiors

When Jeremiah Goodman was 4 years old, he fell out of his parents’ car and broke his right arm.

Given a box of crayons while he was recovering, he taught himself to draw left-handed and developed a passion for art. And that was the beginning of his life as an artist.

Mr. Goodman, who signed his works simply Jeremiah, became renowned as an illustrator and for his atmospheric portraits of the interiors and homes of leading figures in art, fashion and entertainment. Among them were Greta Garbo, Ronald and Nancy Reagan, Pablo Picasso and the Dutchess of Windsor. Revered among interior designers and architects, his work is in the permanent collections of the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum and The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

He died Sept. 7 in his home in Manhattan after a short illness. He was 94.

Irving Jeremiah Goodman was born Oct. 22, 1922 in Niagara Falls, the youngest of five children of Russian Jewish immigrants. His father, a butcher, operated a general store. The family moved to Buffalo in 1930.

“I was very lucky,” he told a biographer, “because my parents made sacrifices to allow me to study at Lafayette High School in Buffalo, which, at the height of the Depression, had no fewer than five art teachers, all first-class.”

One of them was Elizabeth Weiffenbach, who also taught Pulitzer Prize-winning Buffalo News editorial cartoonist Bruce Shanks and architect Gordon Bunshaft.

After graduating in 1939, he went to New York City, where he studied with painting instructor Betty Carter at the Franklin School of Professional Art on a full scholarship. He also took classes in interior design and commercial illustration at the New York School of Fine and Applied Arts, now Parsons School of Design, and assisted store window display designers Sue Williams and Dana Cole.

During World War II, he returned to Buffalo, trained as a machinist and worked in the experimental division of Curtiss-Wright.

In 1945, hoping to become a movie set designer, he went to Hollywood as an illustrator for Joseph B. Platt, who created the interiors for “Gone With the Wind.” But he soon grew unhappy with Platt and the work he was assigned.

Returning to New York City, he became a freelance illustrator and designer. Every month from 1949 to 1964, his illustrations graced the covers of Interior Design magazine. They also appeared in Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue, House & Garden and the New York Times Magazine.

At the same time, he designed window displays for stores in Manhattan. In 1952, he began an association with Lord & Taylor, where for more than 30 years he designed windows, painted murals and illustrated catalogs and advertisements.

He began painting portraits of rooms of the rich and famous with the encouragement of British actor Sir John Geilgud, who was appearing on Broadway when they began a friendship in 1948.

“Before I met him I painted interiors for my own pleasure,” he recalled recently, “but he invited me to England, where I went in 1949, and began to introduce me to his friends. It was all very ‘Brideshead Revisited’ and I found myself in the company of people like Cecil Beaton, John Fowler and Ivor Novello. I was invited to stay in glorious country homes and, being young, brash and American, and not knowing the rules, I probably overstayed my welcome at most of them.”

Another painter, William Bankier Henderson, aide-de-camp to Sir Archibald Wavell, the Viceroy of India, introduced him to high society.

His obituary in Architectural Digest noted: “Chic exaggeration and splashy brushstrokes were Goodman’s stock in trade, a vocabulary of over-the-top-ness that also dug deeply beneath the spaces’ well-decorated reality to deliver a dazzlingly highlighted portrait that, though fantastical in its exuberance, seemed more real than any photograph. ...

“His evocation of Vogue editor Diana Vreeland’s famous scarlet Manhattan living room recorded a claustrophobic sense of malevolence that represented her desire for a ‘garden in hell’ probably better than the actual dense, rather cheerful Billy Baldwin decor.”

In a commentary about it, Mr. Goodman observed: “Could I live in this room? Probably not, but it made one hell of a painting.”

Interest in his room portraits revived in 2007 with the publication of his retrospective “Jeremiah: A Romantic Vision.” It led to a number of gallery exhibitions, including a 70-year review of his career earlier this year in Los Angeles.

Beginning in 1957, Mr. Goodman maintained a home and studio in a carriage house he renovated in East Hampton, L.I. More recently, he lived and worked in a Manhattan apartment overlooking the East River.

No immediate family members survive.

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