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.

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Further information will be added to this site as the National Gallery proceeds with its research and documentation.

Last updated January 2017