Ben Shahn in his studio, 1965
Gift of Kenneth Tyler 2002
Photographer: Unknown Photographer
Ben Shahn was born in Lithuania in 1898. Following the persecution of his father for anti-tsarist activities, the family immigrated to America in 1904. After finishing school, Shahn attended night classes at the National Academy of Design while apprenticed to a commercial lithographer’s studio. In time he managed to attend classes at both the Art Students League and New York University, and travelled to Europe in 1925 and again in 1927. The influence of his family’s strong social conscience permeated all aspects of Shahn’s life and art. In the early 1930s his socialist paintings came to the attention of Diego Rivera, who was in New York painting his Rockefeller Centre murals. Shahn was invited to be his assistant. After learning the techniques of mural painting from Rivera, the medium became a prominent feature of Shahn’s oeuvre.
Shahn also worked with photography, and the National Gallery holds a large collection of his work in this area. The techniques he learnt as an apprentice lithographer were utilised during World War II when he worked on a commission for the American Office of War Information to design posters, an example of which, This is Nazi brutality, is in the National Gallery’s collection. Shahn worked at Gemini GEL in 1966 to create the lithograph Levana. A reference to the Roman goddess of newborn babies, the work is a simple black line evocation of the tender bond that exists between mother and child; a further example of Shahn’s concern with the human condition.
Ben Shahn died in New York, New York
Kate Buckingham, 2006
This chronology provides an overview of selected biographical information, major solo and group exhibitions held within the artist's own lifetime. It draws from the excellent biographical information published in K. Prescott, Prints and posters of Ben Shahn (New York: Dover Publications, 1982)
Last updated October 2016