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

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


54 Hours Week/Low Wages The years just before World War I witnessed a period of unprecedented political activism among American artists. The Ashcan School, led by Robert Henri and John Sloan, who ran for office as a Socialist Party candidate in New York City, introduced urban realism to the rarefied world of academic art. Robert Minor transformed the profession of editorial cartooning with his innovative use of the lithographic crayon. Encouraged by significant popular support for the Socialist Party, which counted nearly one million votes from Americans in 1912, even mainstream magazines like Collier's went so far as to publish cartoons and drawings challenging the status quo. Radical art and politics converged in The Masses, a socialist journal that appeared on newsstands from January 1911 through December 1917. Each month The Masses featured articles, essays, and cartoons commenting on American economic and political conservativism with anger, irony, and irreverence, offering a forum for strong graphic satire that mainstream publications would not print. Such subsequently celebrated artists as John Sloan, Stuart Davis, and Robert Minor took advantage of this platform and their drawings from the period exerted a powerful influence on the profession for decades.


Hoboken, 1916.
Stuart Davis, 1892-1964.
Watercolor. Published in the Liberator 1 (August 1918).
LC-USZC4-5707; LC-USZ62-119283
© Estate of Stuart Davis/Licensed by VAGA, New York, N.Y. (13)

Stuart Davis's watercolor drawing was published in 1918 in the Liberator, an illustrated journal whose editor, Max Eastman, described Hoboken as "a city about a square mile, over in the smoke across the Hudson, shuffling down the beginnings of the Palisades to the edge of the water with a loose collection of factories and railroad yards and cheap flats." Of Davis's style, Eastman wrote that "His art lives among the same squalid and strong-smelling and left-out objects, and it goes its sordid way with the same suave dirty muscular self-adequate gracefulness of power."

Pittsburgh, 1916.
Robert Minor, 1884-1952.
Lithographic crayon and India ink. Published in The Masses, no. 8 (August 1916).
LC-USZ62-111306; LC-USZC4-4903 (38)

Robert Minor revolutionized editorial cartooning in the years before World War I by introducing new media-crayon and ink brush--to a field dominated by pen-and-ink drawings. This technical innovation, derived from the work of such European masters as Francisco Goya and Honoré Daumier, enabled him to create spare, forceful drawings, including his masterpiece, Pittsburgh, drawn for The Masses during a 1916 steel workers' strike.


"Tee Hee" Boys

"Tee Hee" Boys: Born with a Vote and a Partial Sense of the Ridiculous, 1912.
John Sloan, 1871-1951.
Ink and crayon. Published in Collier's (May 18, 1912), as: "Aw, Susie, be them dishes washed?"
LC-USZC4-5708; LC-USZ62-119292
© Estate of John Sloan. (50)

John Sloan created this acerbic caricature of chauvinist males jeering a suffragette parade for the popular magazine Collier's. Sloan began his career as a newspaper sketch artist, making his name as a member of the circle of young artists that formed around Robert Henri, becoming known as the New York Realists or the Ashcan School. To supplement his income, Sloan drew illustrations for mainstream magazines like Collier's and Century, and for such radical leftist journals as The Call and The Masses. Insightful observation, a keen sense of humor and irony, a reforming spirit, and an easy realist style are hallmarks of his illustrative work .

54 Hour Week / Low Wages, ca. 1930s.
Fred Ellis, 1885-1965.
Crayon, ink, pencil and opaque white. Published in the Daily Worker.
© Robert Ellis. (17)

Political cartoonist Fred Ellis learned his craft from Robert Minor, sharing his mentor's concern for the plight of the working man. 54 Hour Week / Low Wages shows death as the reward for long hours with little pay for miners. In 1922 Ellis joined the Communist Party and, thanks to Minor, landed a position as cartoonist for the Daily Worker, which moved from Chicago to New York in 1927. He later spent six years working in Berlin and Moscow, before returning to New York in 1936 to continue his post at the Daily Worker and teach at the American Artists School .

54 Hour Week/Low Wages

Haywood Broun

Heywood Broun, 1930.
Peggy Bacon, 1895-1987.
Lithograph. LC-USZC4-6600
© Estate of Peggy Bacon. (3)

The work of Honoré Daumier inspired Peggy Bacon's interest in caricature and satire, and in 1928 she learned the art of lithography. In the fall of 1930 Bacon dashed off her satirical image of the journalist Heywood Broun for an American Printmakers exhibition. This picture of Broun at his typewriter was published in Bacon's compilation Off with Their Heads! (1934), with her description: "Sits in black leather chair with floppily crossed feet in god-awful mess of letters and litter. Looks like a stage elephant made of two men. Mild, journalistic anxiety stamped on face. Must-get-the-article-in look."

The Troublemaker Who Acts Like a Provocateur at the Caucus, 1943.
William Gropper, 1897-1977.
Ink and white with spatter. Illustration for Avreml Broide, by Ben Gold (New York: Prompt Press, 1944), p. 138.
© Gene Gropper. (23)

Studies with Robert Henri and George Bellows gave William Gropper, the son of poor Jewish immigrants to New York's Lower East Side, the graphic tools to express his passionate commitment to the social and economic welfare of the working classes. This image appears among Gropper's illustrations for the novel Avreml Broide by Ben Gold, published in Yiddish in New York in 1944.

The Troublemaker Who Acts Like a Provocateur at the Caucus

Girls Wanted

Girls Wanted, 1916.
Henry Glintenkamp, 1887-1946.
Crayon. Published in The Masses, no. 8 (February 1916), p. 9.
LC-USZC4-5712; LC-USZ62-119277 (20)

Girls Wanted comments on the Triangle Shirtwaist Company Fire of 1911, which came to the public's attention again in 1916 as investigators issued their report on the tragedy. Henry Glintenkamp began contributing drawings to The Masses in 1913, remaining a regular contributor through 1916. Born in Augusta, New Jersey, he studied at the National Academy of Design and with Robert Henri at the New York School of Art, where he met and shared a studio with Glenn O. Coleman and Stuart Davis. Later he lived in Mexico, traveled in Europe, and worked for the WPA .

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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