Life of the People: Realist Prints and Drawings from the Ben and Beatrice Goldstein Collection, 1912-1948

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Exhibition Sections: Art of the People - The Radical Impulse - City Life
Capital and Labor - The American Scene - Ben Goldstein


Lunch Hour A newly sharpened social and political awareness dominated the prints and drawings of the period between 1912 and 1948. Artists of the period felt a strong affinity for the common people and argued that prints should be not just for the wealthy but treated, as they once had been, as a product for the many. Stylistically, many artists chose a modified realism as a means of expression more accessible to the general public, rather than the European avant garde. Technically, lithography, which could more easily yield larger editions than other original media, flourished. Other methods, such as the silkscreen, were transmuted from commercial use to fine arts media for the production of large, colorful, and inexpensive editions. Such new concepts of the production, marketing, and reproduction of original works of art offered the public access to an entire generation's artistic output and promoted the relevance of fine art to everyday life. In Mexico, in a striking parallel manifestation of this same populist impulse, a vibrant public art reflecting the life and history of the Mexican people sprang up in the 1920s as a cultural legacy of the Mexican Revolution.

Non Fiction Non Fiction, 1945.
Robert Gwathmey, 1903-1988.
© Estate of Robert Gwathmey/Licensed by VAGA, New York, N.Y. (24)

Born in Richmond, Virginia, Robert Gwathmey drew upon his experience as a child in the South in his artistic portrayals of white and black sharecroppers. In 1944 he received a grant that permitted him to work with sharecroppers on a tobacco farm, experiencing firsthand the realities of their daily lives.

The Drunk, ca. 1924.
George Bellows, 1882-1925.
Second state. Lithograph.
Printed by Bolton Brown. Published as an illustration for Mabel Potter Daggett, "Why We Prohibit," in Good Housekeeping, May 1924.
© Mrs. Earl M. Booth. (6)

George Bellows created this tense, violent image of a wife struggling desperately to subdue her drunken husband to illustrate an article entitled "Why We Prohibit," which appeared in Good Housekeeping in 1924, in the midst of the Prohibition Era. The Drunk epitomizes the triangular composition that characterized Bellows's work from 1917 on, when he adopted the principle of dynamic symmetry--a series of geometric formulas used in the organization of a picture.

The Drunk
The assertive radicalism, formal experimentation, and insistence on accessible imagery seen in the work of the Mexican muralists struck a responsive chord in American artists seeking ways to express solidarity with the life of their own people.

Mujer Mexicana Mujer mexicana, 1929.
José Clemente Orozco, 1883-1949.
© Estate of José Clemente Orozco/SOMAAP, Mexico/Licensed by VAGA, New York, N.Y. (43)

Among the most revered Mexican artists of the twentieth century, José Clemente Orozco inspired many American artists through frequent trips to the United States and murals he created in California, in New York City, and at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire. Mujer mexicana represents a detail from a fresco he created for his alma mater, the National Preparatory School in Mexico City. Using the a geometric style derived from pre-Columbian art, Orozco created a new composition of great power and monumentality, evoking Mexico's ancient cultural traditions and the enduring strength of its people.

The Return of the Soldier, 1946.
Charles White, 1918-1979.
Pen and ink.
© Heritage Gallery, Los Angeles. (57)

After studies at the Art Institute of Chicago, African American artist Charles White joined the city's WPA Federal Art Project, creating works addressing ignorance and racial prejudice. As a young man, White expressed his desire to use art as a weapon to "say what I have to say" and "fight what I resent." His dramatic realist style was forged by exposure to the Mexican muralists and refined by later studies under Harry Sternberg in New York. The Return of the Soldier comments harshly on reports of racism and violence encountered by black veterans returning home from World War II.

The Return of the Soldier

Niño con Taco Niño con Taco, 1932.
Diego Rivera, 1886-1957.
© Estate of Diego Rivera. (47)

Many American artists found a model for their own social and artistic aspirations in Diego Rivera's political radicalism and populist imagery. Born in Guanjuato, Mexico, Rivera grew up in Mexico City, attending the San Carlos Academy of Fine Arts. He also worked in the studio of José Guadalupe Posada, the leading popular printmaker of the period. Between 1907 and 1921, he traveled in Europe, experimenting with a number of artistic styles, cubism in particular. Returning to Mexico, Rivera and his fellow artists José Orozco and David Siqueiros initiated the Mexican mural renaissance.


Diego Rivera, ca. 1933.
Lucienne Bloch, 1909-1999.
© Old Stage Studios, Gualala, California 95445. (61)

The influence of the Mexican muralists on American artists took tangible form in the work of Lucienne Bloch. With her husband Stephen Pope Dimitroff, Bloch assisted Diego Rivera in creating murals in Detroit and New York between 1931 and 1933, among them his controversial murals for Rockefeller Center.

Diego Rivera

Boss of the Block

Boss of the Block, ca. 1939.
Martin Lewis, 1881-1962.
Aquatint and etching.
© Estate of Martin Lewis. (32)

Martin Lewis imbued New York City, its skyscrapers, streetscapes, and citizens, with a rare elegance through his technical mastery of such traditional fine art intaglio print processes as etching, drypoint, aquatint, and mezzotint. He chose to work independently during the Depression, rather than participating in the Federal Art Project, and produced few prints between 1936 and 1939. Those that he did create during the period, however, like Boss of the Block, are among his most memorable works.

In the Crowd, 1931.
Mabel Dwight, 1876-1955.
Lithograph. Printed by George Miller.
LC-USZC4-6582 (16)

Mabel Dwight moved easily between comedy and tragedy in the lives of people she portrayed in her prints. Here, she captures despair, perhaps born of the Great Depression, in the faces of six individuals standing in a crowd. Born in Cincinnati, Dwight trained as an artist in San Francisco and Paris. After years of successful work as an illustrator in New York, she began making lithographs in 1927, at the age of fifty-two. In 1933 she participated with the Contemporary Print Group in creating two influential portfolios of realist prints. From 1935 to 1939 she worked for the Federal Art Project of the WPA.

In the Crowd

From Arkansas

From Arkansas, 1941.
Georges Schreiber, 1904-1977.
Lithograph. Distributed by Associated American Artists.
© Estate of Georges Schreiber. (49)

The magnificent achievements of such photographers as Walker Evans and Dorothea Lange in documenting America and Americans during the Depression and World War II have their graphic counterpart in the work of printmakers from the same period, including Georges Schreiber, who visited all forty-eight states, while working for the WPA between 1936 and 1939.

Lunch Hour, 1942.
Joseph Hirsch, 1910-1981.
Lithograph. Printed by George Miller. Distributed by Associated American Artists.
© Mrs. Genevieve Hirsch. (25)

Joseph Hirsch's father, a noted Philadelphia surgeon, posed for the sleeping figure in Lunch Hour, which the artist then transformed into a sensitive portrait of an African American youth. In 1944 the Library of Congress awarded this print the Second Purchase Prize, formerly known as the Pennell Prize.


Lunch Hour

Weighing Fish

Weighing Fish, 1936-37.
M. Lois Murphy, 1901-1962.
Wood engraving.
LC-USZC4-6584 (39)

Lois Murphy made the wood engraving Weighing Fish while affiliated with the WPA Federal Art Project in New York City in 1936-1937.

Papelero en el zocalo, 1943.
Pablo O'Higgins, 1904-1983.
© Fundacion Cultural Maria y Pablo O'Higgins, A.C. (40)

Born in Salt Lake City, Utah, Pablo O'Higgins (Paul Higgins) first studied at the School of Fine Arts in San Diego. His admiration for the Mexican muralists led him south to Mexico City, where he became an apprentice to Diego Rivera from 1924 to 1928. Driven by Marxist theory to act politically, he formed La Liga de Escritores y Artistas Revolucionarios (LEAR) in 1933 and in 1937 became a founding member of the internationally influential print workshop Taller de Gráfica Popular. He also created murals for union halls in Seattle, Washington, and Honolulu, Hawaii.

Papelero en el zocalo

HOME - Exhibition Overview - Object List - Bibliography - Credits
Exhibition Sections: Art of the People - The Radical Impulse - City Life
Capital and Labor - The American Scene - Ben Goldstein

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