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Entries in Social Realism (4)


Isabel Bishop: Social Realist

Isabel Bishop - Lunch Counter - c. 1940 - Oil, egg tempera and pencil on hardboard - The Phillips Collection - Washington, D.C.American artist Isabel Bishop (1902-1988)  was a member of New York's 14th Street School, and is best known for her graphic art and urban subject matter. Bishop’s work shifted focus. In her early artwork, she had depicted realistically rendered nudes. But, in New York she began to draw, etch, and paint the distinctly urban subject matter that surrounded her. After moving to Union Square in 1926, she became enamored of the area and its inhabitants. Shop girls, straphangers, laborers, and derelicts became her models as they traversed. By capturing their motions and gestures in prints, Bishop produced the walking figures for which she is best known.

Bishop taught at the Art Students League as the only female full-time instructor from 1936 to 1937 and also at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, among others. She received awards and prizes including an American Academy of Arts and Letters award (1943), an award for Outstanding Achievement in the Arts presented by President Jimmy Carter (1979), and several honorary doctorates. She was the first woman to hold an executive position in the National Institute of Arts and Letters when she became vice-president in 1946.


Jack Levine: Sharp Social Commentary

Jack Levine - Reconstruction - 1962 - Oil on canvas - 88.9 x 101.6 cm (35 x 40 in.) - Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection (click photo for larger image)Jack Levine (1915-2010) was known best for his satirical figural compositions that express sharp social commentary. Born in Boston, and  of Lithuanian descent, Levine grew up in Boston’s South End, an area crowded with European immigrants. The realities of street-life—drunks, prostitutes, politicians, and policemen—left a vivid impression on Levine. They became central to his art, which often satirizes the quirks and corruption of various segments of society.

Levine first trained at the Jewish Welfare Center in Roxbury, MA. He later attended the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and Harvard University. Between 1935-40, he was sometimes part of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) Federal Art Project.

Levine is typically defined as an American Social Realist. Social Realists created images of the "masses" a term that “encompassed the lower and working classes, labor unionists, and the politically disenfranchised”. American artists became dissatisfied with the French avant-garde and their own isolation from greater society, which inspired them to search for a new vocabulary and a new social importance. Influenced by American Scene Painting and the Ashcan School—these artists believed their content is what made them “modern”.


Jack Levine: American Social Realist

Jack Levine - The Patriarch of Moscow on a Visit to Jerusalem - 1975 - Oil on canvas - 213.2 x 237 cm (84 x 96 in.) - Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection (click photo for larger image)American painter Jack Levine (1915-2010) was a Social Realist, who became well-known for his satirical paintings on modern life, political corruption, and biblical narratives. Born of Lithuanian Jewish parents, Levine grew up in the South End of Boston. He was part of the WPA program established by FDR, and he served in the Army during WWII. Levine loathed the abstract art that was so heavily touted in his day, and drew inspiration instead from such masters as Titan and Velázquez. In their New York Times obituary, he was described as “ unrepentant and much-admired realist artist whose crowded history paintings skewered plutocrats, crooked politicians and human folly.”


Paul Cadmus - Magic Realism

Paul Cadmus - Coney Island - 1934 - Oil on canvas - Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) (click photo for larger image)Magic Realism is an American style of art with decidedly Surrealist overtones. While the art is seemingly anchored in everyday reality, but includes implications of fantasy and wonder. The term “Magic Realism” was later also applied to the literary works of such authors as Jorge Luis Borges and Gabriel García Márquez. One of the Magic Realists of the visual arts was American artists Paul Cadmus (1904-1999). There are tinges of both eroticism and social critique in Cadmus’s art, which have led to his sometimes being labeled a “Social Realist.” Although the work featured here was completed in oils, Cadmus was also one of the few artists of his day who worked in egg tempera.