This work by Joseph Hirsch shows outstretched arms holding bowls waiting to receive some soup

Joseph Hirsch

American, 1910–1981

Soup, c. 1957

Oil on canvas

18 x 26 inches

Signed upper left

Hirsch’s pictures were tributes to the battles waged by the American “everyman”—whether at home trying to make a living or on the frontline during World War II. He treated his subjects with respect and humanity, qualities that were widely recognized: At 23 Hirsch was awarded a prize by the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts for the “best figure painting in oil by an American citizen,” and the public voted his painting Two Men the most popular work at the 1939 World’s Fair.

Hirsch excelled in using color to enhance mood. The dark, almost grim palette of Soup underscores the reality of the lives he’s portraying. The outstretched arms of the men in need are taut and muscled; they have done their share of heavy lifting. A similar treatment of the fellow worker ladling the soup unifies the picture visually and thematically. Hirsch’s handling of the white bowls against an uncluttered background renders them as objects of beauty, lending dignity to the scene. These workers are asking not for a handout, but a helping hand.

This work by Joseph Hirsch shows outstretched arms holding bowls waiting to receive some soup