Artist biography

Ben Shahn 1898-1969

American painter, printmaker, illustrator, photographer, teacher and writer. Born in Kovno, Lithuania (then part of Russia). Moved with his family to Brooklyn, New York, in 1906. Apprenticed in a lithographer's shop 1913-17. Studied biology at New York University 1919-21, then painting at the City College and the National Academy of Design 1921-2. Travelled to Europe and North Africa 1924-5 and 1927-9. First one-man exhibition at the Downtown Gallery, New York, 1930. In 1931 painted a series of gouaches inspired by the trial of the anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti, the first of a number of works on a social theme. Worked with Diego Rivera on his mural for the Rockefeller Center 1932. Enrolled with the WPA Federal Art Project 1934; while employed by the Farm Security Administration 1935-8 took some 3,000 photographs and painted a fresco for the community centre at Jersey Homesteads. Made a mural in 1938-9 for a post office in the Bronx. Settled in 1939 at Jersey Homesteads (later renamed Roosevelt). Active from 1944 not only as a painter but as poster designer, commercial artist, magazine and book illustrator. His later works, which included several murals in mosaic or stained glass, tended to be more fanciful and sometimes allegorical in character. Charles Eliot Norton Professor of Poetry at Harvard 1956-7. Died in New York.

Published in:
Ronald Alley, Catalogue of the Tate Gallery's Collection of Modern Art other than Works by British Artists, Tate Gallery and Sotheby Parke-Bernet, London 1981, pp.685-6