Ben Shahn

American, 1898–1969

Bather, 1945

Tempera on canvas tacked over board

13½ x 9½ inches

Signed lower right

One of the most important social realist artists of the 1930s and 1940s, Shahn was born in Lithuania and immigrated to the United States at the age of eight. His family settled in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where they lived in a succession of row houses on Walton Street. Shahn’s impoverished childhood informed the social commentary of his paintings, which illuminate the oppression and injustices suffered by working class, minority, and immigrant families during the Depression.

In New York, Shahn first trained as a lithographer, and his ability in lithography and graphic design can often be perceived in his paintings. Bather was in the collection of Cipe Pineles, famous art director at Glamour, CHARM, and Seventeen magazines during the 1940s and 1950s. This tempera demonstrates Shahn’s graphic power and his sensitivity toward his subjects. His composition and palette allow the vastness of the rocks, sea, and sky to contrast with the singularity of the lone bather. This work evokes the poignancy of the human experience that Shahn is famous for capturing.