Charles Peterson, photograph of Jan Gelb, ca. 1960. Jan Gelb and Boris Margo Papers, 1922-1977, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.
Jan Gelb, Night Wind, 1947. Etching (printed in relief), third state, plate: 10 x 12 in. (25.4 x 30.5 cm); sheet: 12 x 15 5/8 in. (30.5 x 39.7 cm). Syracuse University Art Collection, New York. Gift of Ms. Jan Gelb (Mrs. Boris Margo). Courtesy of the estate of Jan Gelb Margo.

37. Jan Gelb

Life Dates1906-1978
Place of BirthNew York, NY, USA
Place of DeathNew York, NY, USA
Birth NameJeannette Louise Gelb

Jeannette Gelb was the oldest of Louis and Sarah Gelb’s five children. Although the Gelbs lived initially in Manhattan, the family settled in West Haven, Connecticut, where Louis was a door-to-door salesman. Jan Gelb attended the School of Art at Yale University, graduating in 1927. She moved to New York to continue art studies at the Art Students League while supporting herself as a public-school teacher.1 Although she took painting and life class, she developed a primary focus on etching with Eugene Fitsch and George Picken.2 Her prints from the 1930s represent cityscapes, portraits, and scenes of laborers, and by the 1940s her style became deeply influenced by surrealism and dream imagery.3 Gelb was always intellectually curious and developed a particular interest in psychoanalysis, the profession of her youngest brother, Lester. She produced a series of dream-inspired etchings, printed in relief with black ink, while working at Atelier 17 in the late 1940s.4 Gelb’s mature prints, made from the 1950s until the early 1970s, are fully abstract but still closely linked to nature and particularly her favorite place, the dunes of Provincetown, Massachusetts, where she and her husband, Boris Margo, maintained a beach shack. Likely through the influence of Margo, creator of the cellocut, she devised new methods for achieving textural effects on these abstract intaglio plates including spraying them with lacquer from aerosol cans or scratching them with granular materials such as sugar or carborundum.5 Gelb exhibited her paintings and prints often and had solo shows at galleries such as Delphic Studios (1940), Weyhe Gallery (1948, 1950), and Ruth White Gallery (several between 1957 and her death).


Jan Gelb and Boris Margo Papers, 1922–1977, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

Selected Bibliography

Breuning, Margaret. “Gelb’s Symbols of Significance.” Art Digest 24 (May 1, 1950): 18.

“Four One-Man Shows.” New York Times, April 28, 1940.

Gelb, Jan, and August Freundlich. Jan Gelb: Her Voice. Syracuse: Syracuse University Lubin House, 1972.

Haas, Irvin. “The Print Collector.” Art News 46, no. 6 (August 1947): 8.

“Jan Gelb.” Art News 47 (April 1948): 63–64.

“Jan Gelb.” Art News 52 (February 1954): 63.

Jan Gelb. New York: Ruth White Gallery, 1959.

Jan Gelb: Many Moons. New York: Ruth White Gallery, 1966.

“Legends by Gelb.” Art Digest 22 (May 1, 1948): 11.

Preston, Stuart. “Art: A Mythical Voyage into Cubism.” New York Times, October 27, 1962.

Wishart, Lutrelle. “Art in Asheville.” Asheville Citizen-Times, September 27, 1964.


  1. Student registration card, Art Students League of New York.
  2. Gelb’s school records are in unmicrofilmed “business correspondence,” Jan Gelb and Boris Margo Papers, 1922–1977 (henceforth JG/BM), Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
  3. Jan Gelb and August Freundlich, Jan Gelb: Her Voice (Syracuse: Syracuse University Lubin House, 1972). Gelb donated a nearly complete collection of her prints to the Syracuse University Art Galleries.
  4. Irvin Haas, “The Print Collector,” Art News 46, no. 6 (August 1947): 8; “Legends by Gelb,” Art Digest 22 (May 1, 1948): 11.
  5. “Statement for Lois Tracy to insert or excerpt from in her forthcoming book,” JG/BM, reel 998:375.