Ben Shahn  (American, 1898-1969) 

Ben Shahn (American, September 12, 1898–March 14, 1969) was a painter, lithographer, and photographer best known for his left-wing political leanings, works of social realism, and The Shape of Content, a publication of his lectures. Shahn was born in Kovno, Lithuania, when the country was still occupied by the Russian Empire. In 1902, Shahn's father, Joshua Hessel, was exiled to Siberia. Shahn then moved to Vilkomir, Lithuania, with his mother, Gittel, and his two siblings. Their family moved to the United States in 1906 to join their father who had fled from exile. After settling in Brooklyn, NY, Shahn began to train in lithography and graphic design, and his favorite medium was egg tempera. In 1919, Shahn enrolled in New York University to study Biology before entering the City College in 1921 to study Art. He also studied Art at the National Academy of Design. In the 1920s, Shahn and his wife traveled around Africa and Europe to study the works of renowned artists such as Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881–1973) and Raoul Dufy (French, 1877–1953).

In 1933, Shahn worked as an assistant of Diego Rivera (Mexican, 1886–1957); at this time, Rivera was working on the mural at the Rockefeller Center in New York. Two years later, Shahn was recommended by Walker Evans (American, 1903–1975) to join the Farm Security Administration photographic group. One of the artist’s most famous works is the fresco mural he did for the Jersey Homesteads' community center. Shahn also worked on murals for the state on the Federal Security Building and the Bronx Central Annex Post Office.

During the Second World War, Shahn made a series of paintings laced with anti-war sentiments. An example of his work during this period is Death on the Beach. Shahn's famous portrait of Martin Luther King, Jr. is an example of work he did commercially for Time. He also did commercial works for CBS, Fortune, and Harper's. In 1954, Shahn represented the United States at the Venice Biennale alongside Willem de Kooning (Dutch, 1904–1997).

In the last two decades of his life, Shahn was active in academics and received honorary doctorates from several universities, such as Princeton University in Princeton, NY, and Harvard University in Cambridge, MA. He had exhibited at institutions including Edith Halpert's Downtown Gallery in New York, NY, in 1930, and New Jersey State Museum, in Trenton, in 1969. His works can be found in numerous galleries, including the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra. Shahn died in New York in 1969.

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Ben Shahn, Alienation


Ben Shahn

Madron LLC
Ben Shahn, Freedom of the Press


Ben Shahn
Freedom of the Press

Jonathan Boos, LLC
Ben Shahn, Suzanna and the Elders


Ben Shahn
Suzanna and the Elders
circa 1940-1950

Robert Funk Fine Art
Ben Shahn, Flowering Brushes


Ben Shahn
Flowering Brushes

George Krevsky Gallery
Ben Shahn, To Days of Childhood That Are Still Unexplained


Ben Shahn
To Days of Childhood That Are Still Unexplained

David Barnett Gallery
Ben Shahn, One Must Know the Animals


Ben Shahn
One Must Know the Animals
David Barnett Gallery
Ben Shahn, The News (Lucky Dragon)


Ben Shahn
The News (Lucky Dragon)

George Krevsky Gallery
Ben Shahn, 6th Avenue, New York City


Ben Shahn
6th Avenue, New York City

Howard Greenberg Gallery
Ben Shahn, McCarthy Peace


Ben Shahn
McCarthy Peace

Kiechel Fine Art
Past auction results (1298)  View All
Ben Shahn, Mrs, Hulhall and Children, Arkansas


Ben Shahn
Mrs, Hulhall and Children, Arkansas, 1935
gelatin silver print


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Ben Shahn, Destitute farmer's wife, Ozark Mts., Ark


Ben Shahn
Destitute farmer's wife, Ozark Mts., Ark, 1935
gelatin silver print


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Ben Shahn, Untitled (Figure Study)(doubl-sided)


Ben Shahn
Untitled (Figure Study)(doubl-sided)
watercolor on laid paper


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1898   Born in Kovno (Kaunus), Lithuania
1906   Emigrated with his family to New York in 1906
1913   Served as an apprentice to a lithographer
1917 - 1921   Studied art at New York University, City College of New York and the National Academy of Design
1922   Married Tillie Goldstein
1925 - 1929   Traveled several times to Europe and North Africa with his wife
1929   Birth of daughter Judith
1930   First solo exhibition at The Downtown Gallery in New York. A work is also exhibited at New York’s Museum of Modern Art
1930   His reputation as a leading artist in the social realist movement is cemented
1931   Shared a studio with photographer Walker Evans in New York
1931 - 1933   Painted his most famous series of works: “The Passion of Sacco and Vanzetti,” followed by “The Mooney Series”
1933   Worked with muralist Diego Rivera for a mural at Rockefeller Center in New York
1933   Birth of son Ezra
1935   After divorcing Tillie, remarried to Bernarda Bryson
1936   Birth of daughter Susanna by Bernarda
1937   Moved to Jersey Homesteads (Roosevelt), New Jersey
1933 - 1938   Worked as a photographer for the Farm Security Administration, recording images of Depression era America
1938   Birth of son Jonathan
1937 - 1943   Created several public murals, including one for the Bronx Courthouse, New York
1947   Retrospective exhibition is shown at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY
1954   With Willem de Kooning, chosen to represent the United States at the Venice Biennale
1956 - 1957   Served as the Charles Eliot Norton Professor of Poetry at Harvard University. His Norton Lectures are published by Harvard as “The Shape of Content”
1969   Died in New York, NY
2007   American Modernism, The de Yound Museum, San Francisco, CA
2007   For the People, The Frances Lehmen Loeb Art Center, Pougheepsie, NY
2006   Starting at Zero - Black Mountain College 1933-57, Kettle's Yard, Cambridge, Cambridgeshire (England)
2005   The Bitter Years, Bob Rauschenberg Gallery, Ft. Myers, FL
2004   American Expressionism - Art and Social Change, 1920s-1950s, Mary and Leigh Blcok Museum of Art, Evanston, IL
2003   New York - Capitale de la photographie (1900-2000), Musee de l'Elysee, Lausanne
2002   New York: Capital of Photography, MMoCA - THe Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, Madison, WI
2001   Greed and Other Recent Acquisitions, ICP - International Center of Photography, New York City, NY
2000   Propaganda and dreams - photography of the 1930s in the USSR and the USA, The State Russian Museum - Mikhailovsky Castle, St. Petersburg
1999   Propaganda and dreams - Photographing the 1930s in the USSR and the US, ICP - International Center of Photorgraphy, New York City, NY
1998   The Posters American Style, Norton Museum of Art, West Palm Beach, FL