Ben Shahn (1898 - 1969)
Korea, c. 1958
Tempera on canvas mounted on board
13 x 23 inches
Signed at lower right: Ben Shahn
The Downtown Gallery, New York, New York
Basel International Art Fair, Basel, Switzerland, June 19-24, 1974.
The Jewish Museum, New York, New York, Ben Shahn: A Retrospective, October 18- February 2, 1976, cat. No. 58.
Ben Shahnís interest and involvement in politics was longstanding and greatly influenced his artistic career. He was born in Lithuania in 1898 into a family of Jewish craftsmen. His fatherís anti-czarist activities forced the family to immigrate to the United States in 1906. Shahn grew up in a working-class neighborhood in Brooklyn. He became an apprentice in a Manhattan lithographic firm, finishing high school at night and later taking classes at New York University, City College of New York, and the National Academy of Design. Shahn saw his art as a means to combat injustice and raise social awareness. Throughout his career Shahnís style retained the linear bias of a draughtsman, which proved to be effective in his satirical depictions of social types. He had his first solo exhibition at the Downtown Gallery in 1930, and his series of paintings of the trial and execution of the anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti established his reputation and led to further explorations of trials with political implications.
Diego Rivera, the Mexican painter, admired Shahnís work and invited him to assist with murals Rivera was painting for Rockefeller Centerís RCA Building. (When a portrait of Lenin was discovered among the figures Rivera had depicted, the murals were removed.) Responding strongly to the public nature of this art form, Shahn painted murals for the Works Progress Administrationís Federal Art Project (WPA/FAP), notably those in the Bronx Central Annex Post Office and the Federal Security Building in Washington, D.C.
A painter and photographer for the Farm Security Administration (FSA) between 1935 and 1938, and later known for his illustrations and prints, Shahn was skilled in many mediums. He was also active politically, serving as a city councilman in Roosevelt, New Jersey, between 1945 and 1948.
His work is represented in a number of public and private collections including over sixty museums such as the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the National Gallery of Art, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the Brooklyn Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Whitney Museum of American Art.
Ben Shahn died in New York City on March 14, 1969.