Political artist Ben Shahn, who became a stand-out among the artists of the WPA and other federal agencies during the Great Depression and represented the U.S. (with Willem de Kooning) at the 1954 Venice Biennale, died at 70 on this date in 1969. Shahn studied lithography and graphic design in New York before touring the great museums of Europe in his early twenties. He resisted abstraction and attached his art to political subjects, becoming famous for his paintings of Sacco and Vanzetti (1932), his thirteen murals at the central Bronx post office, based on Walt Whitman’s “I See America Working,” a poster he executed for the U.S. Office of War Information (“We French Workers warn you . . .”), his 1965 Time magazine portrait of Martin Luther King, Jr., his portrait of civil rights martyrs Schwerner, Goodman, and Chaney, and numerous other moving, expressive, narrative artworks about struggle and injustice.
“Art almost always has its ingredient of impudence, its flouting of established authority, so that it may substitute its own authority, and its own enlightenment.” —Ben Shahn