Death on the Beach, 1945
Tempera on board
10 x 14¼ inches
Signed upper right
One of the most important Social Realist artists of the 1930s and 1940s, Shahn worked for the Office of War Information in 1942–43. Unable to contain his antiwar sentiment, Shahn saw only two of his works published during this time on the grounds that they often did not convey the degree of patriotism desired by the office.
Death on the Beach depicts a fallen GI on the shores of Normandy. A forceful work expressing Shahn’s revulsion for war, this painting relates to another 1945 tempera work of Shahn’s entitled Pacific Landscape. In that work a man is seen lying face down, a small figure against a vast beach. In Death on the Beach, Shahn zooms in on the head of the fallen GI, meticulously painting the blood seeping into the pebbles, which makes the fact of the man’s death inescapable.