Jack Levine, American Social Realist painter, Died at 95

Dead, Jack Levine on November 8, 2010 at the age of 95, he was an American Social Realist painter and printmaker best known for his satires on modern life, political corruption, and biblical narratives.

Born on January 3, 1915, Levine grew up in the South End of Boston, where he observed a street life composed of European immigrants and a prevalence of poverty and societal ills, subjects which would inform his work.

He first studied drawing with Harold K. Zimmerman from 1924-1931.

At Harvard University from 1929 to 1933, Levine and classmate Hyman Bloom studied with Denman Ross.

As an adolescent, Levine was already, by his own account, “a formidable draftsman”.

In 1932 Ross included Levine’s drawings in an exhibition at the Fogg Art Museum at Harvard, and three years later bequeathed twenty drawings by Levine to the museum’s collection.

From 1935 to 1940 he was employed by the Works Progress Administration.

His first exhibition of paintings in New York City was at the Museum of Modern Art, with the display of Card Game and Brain Trust, the latter drawn from his observation of life in the Boston Common.

In 1937 his The Feast of Pure Reason, a satire of Boston political power, was placed on loan to the Museum of Modern Art.

In the same year String Quartet was shown at the Whitney Museum of American Art, and purchased in 1942 by the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The death of his father in 1939 prompted a series of paintings of Jewish sages.

At the age of 8, Levine’s family moved to Boston’s Roxbury neighbourhood.

Levine started taking art classes at a nearby community centre and at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Levine’s talent was soon recognized by his teachers, who included Denman Ross. Ross, an artist on the Harvard University faculty, supported Levine by offering him studio space and financial assistance.

While Levine was still in high school, Ross also arranged for Levine’s drawings to be exhibited at Harvard’s Fogg Museum.

Levine’s post-war art continued to address themes of power and corruption, often by means of caricature, distortion and expressive colour.

His painting “Welcome Home” (1946) was a biting portrayal of military and financial leaders.

In a sign of the piece’s power, the work was condemned by the House Un-American Activities Committee.

Levine continued to work as a social realist painter in the 1950s and ’60s, even when abstract art (such as the work of Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko) became popular.

“Election Night” (1954), a sardonic look at the underbelly of politics, and “Birmingham ’63,” a scene of African-American men being attacked by police dogs, were other important works of his middle career.

Jack Levine’s paintings and prints are included in the collections of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, the National Museum of American Art, Washington, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

A full member of the National Academy of Design, Levine was also an influential teacher at the Art Institute of Chicago and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.