Ben Shahn

Shahn, Ben (Benjamin Shahn), 1898–1969, American painter and graphic artist, b. Lithuania. Shahn emigrated to the United States in 1906. After working in lithography until 1930, his style crystallized in a series of 23 paintings concerning the Sacco-Vanzetti trial, among them The Passion of Sacco and Vanzetti (Whitney Mus., New York City). Shahn dealt consistently with social and political themes. He developed a strong and brilliant sense of graphic design revealed in numerous posters. His painting Vacant Lot (Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, Conn.) exhibits a poetic realism, whereas his more abstract works are characterized by terse, incisive lines and a lyric intensity of color. The Blind Botanist (Wichita Art Mus.) is characteristic of his abstractions. Shahn's murals include a series for the Bronx Central Annex Post Office, New York City. From 1933 to 1938 he worked as a photographer for the Farm Security Administration, producing masterful images of impoverished rural areas and their inhabitants. Shahn's later works are concerned with the loneliness of the city dweller.

See his writings, ed. by J. D. Morse (1972); biographies by his wife, B. B. Shahn (1972), and H. Greenfeld (1998); studies by J. T. Soby (1947 and 1957); K. W. Prescott, The Complete Graphic Works of Ben Shahn (1973).

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