January 2, 1899|
|Died||September 28, 1964(aged 65)|
Stefan Hirsch (January 2, 1899 – September 28, 1964) was an American artist. Many of his paintings have the hard edges, smooth surfaces, and simplified forms of the precisionists and their typical subjects—cityscapes and industrial scenes—are sometimes also his, but in general his works have an emotional element and, as one critic as said, "take on an otherworldly tone" that sets them apart. In addition to work showing a personal version of precisionism, he produced paintings, drawings, and prints in the social realist, Mexican muralist, and surrealist styles as well as still lifes, portraits, and landscapes that defy easy classification. His work achieved critical recognition from 1919 onward, has been widely collected, and is today found in many American museums including the Phillips Collection, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Corcoran Gallery.
Early life and education
Hirsch was born in Nuremberg, Germany, to parents who were American citizens of German heritage. He studied law and art at the University of Zürich and was there exposed to artists associated with the Dada movement. When he was 20 his family emigrated to New York and there he was befriended by the teacher and art patron, Hamilton Easter Field. Along with the painter, Yasuo Kuniyoshi and sculptor, Robert Laurent, he spent several summer sessions at Field's school in Ogunquit, Maine. His first appearance in an exhibition was in 1919 at the Society of Independent Artists in New York.
Mature style: 1920s
At the time of his first one-man show in 1927 a critic for the New York Sun was surprised Hirsch had not been given one before. His work stood out when it was exhibited and was collected widely, this critic wrote. He said it was modern but not revolutionary and its quality was undisputed. Hirsch's subjects at this time were mainly buildings: structures without human presence. Critics described his paintings as cool, reserved, and somewhat aloof. The critic for the Sun said they showed "a moment when everything stops." Their design was flat. The colors were muted and harmonious with a "purity and clarity of color like things painted on porcelain or silk." They possessed an "intellectual austerity" but were nonetheless said to convey the essential character of a scene.
Hirsch's drawing, House, of 1920 shows some influences of Cézanne and the cubists in its juxtaposed panels and emphasis on the two-dimensional surface of the paper. Its spare, geometric design was typical of his style during this decade. His painting, Lower Manhattan, of either 1920 or 1921, is one of his best known pieces. It possesses the "essential flatness" of most of his output and shows his artistic skill in its overall design, coloration and balanced tonal relations.
Hirsch's paintings and drawings in the 1920s were not all in the manner of his urban landscapes. His 1919 drawing of flowers on a table with note cards and knife is realistic with a tonal balance and clarity that would later be recognized as distinguishing his best work. In 1924 he showed a "monumental nude" at the Bourgeois Gallery in New York and, that same year, he made a lithograph showing the heads of three women in hats and coats. A rural landscape, Pastoral Scene, New England, painted in 1926, contrasts sharply with his cityscapes in its rounded contours and blue- and red-toned pallette. In 1927 he showed a circus scene at that year's Salons of America exhibition which a critic found to be witty and more flexible than his "mathematically exact" paintings. In his solo exhibit at the Bourgeois Galleries that same year he showed three portraits (Mrs. Catherine Grossman, Dr. Michael Ringer, and A Young Girl). In 1928 he showed a painting called Lilies of the Valley in an exhibition at the Downtown Galleries and the following year he produced a whimsical drawing called "Stuart Davis Mailbox" which shows the back of a woman holding a small American flag beside a mechanical letterbox contraption with human features, in profile. At about the same time he painted a rural landscape, Horse Pasture, described as showing clean outline and peaceful horizons.
Life events: 1920s
In 1922 Hirsch was a founding director and recording secretary of the Salons of America. Hamilton Easter Field created the Salons as an alternative to the Society of Independent Artists which he felt unfairly was giving preferential treatment to some of its members. Hirsch would remain as a director and would continue to show at the Salons exhibitions until 1936.
In 1927 Hirsch was given his first solo exhibition. This event took place at the Bourgeois Gallery, New York. Two years later, with Robert Laurent, Wood Gaylor, and Yasuo Kuniyoshi, Hirsch established the Field Foundation. Using a legacy from Hamilton Easter Field, the foundation was run by artists to help other artists by purchasing their work.
Mature style: 1930s
The paintings, drawings, and lithographs that Hirsch made in the 1930s were mainly in the social realist style of the time. Like other artists, he made murals as well as doing easel work. In these pieces there is little evidence of the precisionist influence that had marked much of his work in the 1920s. His colors were bolder and the paintings showed more depth.
Some of the most colorful paintings came from visits he made to Mexico from 1929 to 1933. A small one, Kachinas shows the same careful handling of tones and balancing of pictorial elements as in his earlier work, but its colors are intense and its treatment realistic. The figures shown are Hopi spirit-figures, one of whom is performing a ritual snake dance. Other subjects from these trips include burros, a bullfight scene, musicians, and an allegorical painting of a priest, soldiers, a man with a bag of money, and three peasants slumbering.
Hirsch's social realist style can be seen in Construction of Roosevelt Highway of about 1930 shows five dark-skinned laborers, none facing the viewer, all having postures showing resignation or despondence. Industrial buildings spewing smoke and a set of grain elevators appear in the background.
Early in the 1930s, Hirsch experimented with surrealism. In 1932 he showed two paintings, Pent House and Encounter, which a critic said were effective without revealing the depths of the human psyche. A first mural, Dispatcher, was shown at the Grand Central Galleries in 1935 by arrangement with the Mural Painters Society of which he was a member. Between 1934 and 1937 he contributed his time and materials to paint a number of murals in the auditorium of Lenox Hill House, New York. The social realist panels depict "Recreation," The Desire to Build," "The Desire to Learn," "Cultural Pursuits," and other subjects. In 1938 he took a commission from the Federal Art Project to paint a mural in the Federal Courthouse in Aiken, South Carolina. Called Justice as Protector, the mural had a central figure whose dark skin offended the court's judges and the mural was consequently covered by a drape for many years. Five years later he was given a commission by the U.S. Treasury Department for a post office mural in Booneville, Mississippi. This one, called Scenic and Historic Booneville showed no dark skinned people and occasioned no local controversy, but there was disagreement between Hirsch and the Treasury Department's Section of Fine Arts. He wished to paint a Civil War skirmish that took place near Booneville and when that was refused, he painted a war-related scene of home-front family members and overseas servicemen writing and reading letters.
Hirsch's solo exhibition at the Associated American Galleries in 1941 summarized his easel work of the previous decade. It included cityscapes (Fiftieth Street and Queensboro Bridge) and social-realist figures (Matador, Muleteer, and Quitting Time) from Mexico and New York, as well as a landscape (New England February), and domestic scenes (Wash Day andDomestic Still Life). Edward Alden Jewell of the New York Times said these works varied from one another in style with the more recent canvases showing "a simply integrated design" and "agreeable color harmonies."
Life events: 1930s
During his travels in Mexico from 1929 to 1933, Hirsch became friends with David Siqueiros and Diego Rivera and in January 1932 wrote a letter to the New York Times praising the Mexican government's support for its artists.
While continuing to produce paintings and other art, Hirsch began a second career in art instruction. His first teaching job, at Bennington College, Bennington, Vermont, began in 1934 and continued until 1940.
Later life and work
From 1940 to 1946, Hirsch taught at the Art Students League of New York. From 1942 until his retirement in 1961 he taught at Bard College and was for most of that time chairman of the art department.
In 1941 Hirsch participated in a controversy about experimentation in art in the New York Times. Edward Alden Jewell of the Times had received a letter from a man named Samuel M. Kootz issuing a blanket condemnation of the previous decade's output by American painters and calling for experiments to break free from a complacent sameness of output. Hirsch responded to the effect that quality in art wasn't so much dependent on simply being new as it was on fresh interpretation of timeless themes and techniques.
Hirsch's father, Angelo Hirsch, was born on April 11, 1863, in Roth, Bavaria, Germany. He emigrated to New York in 1886 and died there aged 74 on August 1, 1937. He was the son of Gerson Hirsch, Jr. Hirsch's mother was Florence Thurnauer (May 17, 1874 to July 21, 1929) who was the daughter of William Thurnauer and Mina Thurnauer. Both parents were American citizens at the time of Hirsch's birth. Hirsch had a sister, Dorothy, who was ten years younger than he. Hirsch lived with his parents (and after his mother's death with his father) until his marriage on January 25, 1931, to Elsa Rogo The couple had no children. In 1932, Rogo was head of an art school for Mexican children in Taxaco. They lived in Bennington, Vermont, when Hirsch taught at the college there and lived in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York, when he taught at Bard.
The sources for this selective list are accounts in New York newspapers.
- Addison Gallery of American Art, Phillips Academy, Andover, Massachusetts
- Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, New York
- Brooklyn Museum, New York
- Columbus Museum of Art, Columbus, Georgia
- Corcoran Gallery, Washington, D.C.
- Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, Texas
- Dartmouth College, Dartmouth, New Hampshire
- Greenville County Museum of Art, Greenville, South Carolina
- Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
- Newark Museum, Newark, New Jersey
- Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C.
- Print Club of Albany, Albany, New York
- Robert Hull Fleming Museum, University of Vermont, Burlington, Vermont
- Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, New York
- Whitney Museum of American Art, New York
- Worcester Art Museum, Worcester, Massachusetts
The sources for this selective list are accounts in New York newspapers.
- 1919 Society of Independent Artists
- 1922 Society of Independent Artists
- 1922 A.E. Field Memorial Exhibit at Brooklyn Museum, New York
- 1923 Brooklyn Society of Modern Artists at the Plymouth Institute, New York
- 1924 Bourgeois Galleries, New York
- 1924 Wanamaker Gallery, New York
- 1926 Phillips Memorial Gallery
- 1927 First one-man show, Bourgeois Gallery, New York
- 1927 Downtown Gallery, New York
- 1927 Salons of America, New York
- 1928 Salons of America at Anderson Galleries, New York
- 1929 Downtown Gallery, New York
- 1930 Museum of Modern Art, New York
- 1931 Salons of America at Anderson Galleries, New York (this was the 10th annual show, presumably he showed in all)
- 1931 Downtown Galleries, New York
- 1931 Dwight Art Memorial, Mount Holyoke College, Mount Holyoak, Massachusetts
- 1932 G.R.D. Gallery, New York
- 1932 Solo Exhibition, Downtown Gallery, New York
- 1932 Painters' and Sculptors' Guild, New School for Social Research, New York
- 1934 Downtown Gallery, New York, Field Foundation Painting and Sculpture
- 1935 Gallery of Living Artists, Brooklyn Museum
- 1937 Grand Central Galleries, New York, Mural Painters Society
- 1941 One-man show, Associated American Artists Galleries, New York
- 1941 Whitney Museum of American Art, New York
- 1942 André Seligman, New York
- 1951 Woodstock Art Gallery, Woodstock, New York
- 1977 Retrospective, Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, New York
- 2015 "Precisely Not: Works from the Stefan Hirsch and Elsa Rogo Collection", Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, New York
- "Stefan Hirsch". Oxford Reference. Retrieved 2014-07-31.
- "Stefan Hirsch 1899-1964". Art Journal. 24 (2): 158. Winter 1964–65.
- "Stefan Hirsch, 65, Painter, Teacher; Ex-Head of 2 Colleges' Art Departments Dies at 65". New York Times. 1964-09-30. p. 43.
- David Lloyd (1922-03-13). "Independents Like Public's Ridicule; Art Show Sure of Publicity From Laughter; Current Exhibit Contains Things Of Interest From New and Recognized Artists". New York Evening Post.
There is the drafting board sheeness of Stefan Hirsch's cast shadows and G.C. Ault's engine-room glares.
- "Stefan Hirsch". Smithsonian American Art Museum. Retrieved 2014-07-16.
- "Stefan Hirsch - Biography". Phillips Collection. Retrieved 2014-07-16.
- "Stefan A. Hirsch (1899 - 1964)". medicinemangallery.com. Retrieved 2014-07-16.
- "First One-Man Show By Stefan Hirsch". New York Sun. 1927-03-05. p. 5.
- "Bourgeois Gallery". New York Evening Post. 1924-11-22. p. 10.
- "Bourgeois Gallery". New York Evening News. 1927-03-05. p. 13.
- "Art Roster; New Exhibitions". New York Times. 1932-11-27. p. X8.
Downtown Gallery—Recent paintings by Stefan Hirsch, who has returned, with style unscathed, from a visit to Mexico. A new strength is manifest, not alone in the brushwork but also in the artist's approach. He still simplifies, but with greater richness and depth, insisting less upon the essential "flatness" that used to characterize his compositions.... Mr. Hirsch takes a fling with the surrealists, proving himself, in "Pent House" and "The Encounter," quite capable of sounding these dreamy depths, though evidencing no disposition to press on into really individual exploration.
- David Lloyd (April 1921). "Picture Shows and Picture Puzzles; The National Academy of Design and the Society of Independent Artists". Arts & Decoration. A. Budge: 449.
Stefan Hirsch has a discipline less outré [than Marsden Hartley], unusual rather as dedicated to the easel picture than as exemplifying the attempt to regard painting as a sheerly intellectual process.Check date values in:
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- Breuning, Margaret (1924-05-10). "New York as It Seems To the Artists—Exhibitions and Other Notes About Art". New York Evening Post. p. 5.
Stefan Hirsch, throwing city, river, boats, and towers into conventional, deliberate patterns, gives them all lovely coloring and tonal relations.
- "Egon & Joan Teichert Fine Prints". eteichertfineprints.com. Retrieved 2014-07-27.
- "Seen In New York Galleries". New York Times. 1927-05-01. p. X8.
- Breuning, Margaret (1927-03-05). "Galleries Crowded as Week Renews Activities Among the Art Exhibitions...Work by Stefan Hirsch Shown at Bourgeois Gallery". New York Evening Post.
An exhibition at the Bourgeois Gallery is infrequent enough nowadays to assume the proportions of an event. The present exhibition is of paintings by Stefan Hirsch.
- "Stephan[sic] Hirsch". Brooklyn Daily Eagle. 1927-03-06. p. 6E.
Mr. Hirsch has looked upon Japanese art and early German portraits with profit, learning from them the secret of reticence, without, however taking over their stylisms and mannerisms in his own work. He is curiously restrained for so young an artist, observing and analyzing his subject, getting its essential quality and then proceeding to set it down with the greatest economy of means. It is highly intellectual work which does not preclude a strong emotional intensity. His portraits, for example, are fined down to lines and flat masses of color. But he has in each instance grasped the salient characteristic and omitted everything which did not aid in giving the essence of personality. They are clam, clear, measured statements in which no virtuosity of technique, no strangeness of composition, no seduction of color, stands in the way of understanding the inner character of his sitters.
- "May Flowers". New York Times. 1928-04-29. p. XX19.
- "Stuart Davis mailbox by Stefan Hirsch". artnet.com. Retrieved 2014-07-27.
- Elisabeth Luther Cary (1930-10-05). "American Paintings". New York Times. p. X11.
- Clark S. Marlor (1991). The Salons of America: 1922-1936. Sound View Press. ISBN 978-0-932087-15-7.
- Hamilton Easter Field; Forbes Watson (1921). The Arts. H. E. Field. p. 322.
- Donna Cassidy (2005). Marsden Hartley: Race, Region, and Nation. UPNE. p. 178. ISBN 978-1-58465-446-9.
- "Salons of America, Inc., Next; Offshoot of Independents Prepares for Spring Exhibition—Salmagundi Prizes". New York Sun. 1924-03-14. p. 9.
The late Hamilton Easter Field founded the Salons after expressing discontent with the methods of the older society with which had been deeply affiliated, saying: "My stand is that the official publicity should not in any way feature any member, for in so doing the society is not true to its principles. It is not giving an equal opportunity to every member."
- "Spring Salons of America". Brooklyn Daily Eagle. 1931-04-26. p. E5.
- "Art: Traveling and Local Exhibition; Salons of America". New York Times. 1922-05-28. p. 74.
- "A place called Perkins Cove". talesetc.com. Retrieved 2014-07-29.
Hamilton Field died from pneumonia in 1922. He was childless but named his ‘adopted’ son Robert Laurent as his sole heir. Robert and four artists who lived and worked in the Cove established the Hamilton Easter Field Foundation. This foundation was run by artists, in honor of an artist, to aid fellow artists by buying their work.
- Kanak, Jim (2004-09-02). "Exploring art and fishing history of Perkins Cove". Seacoast Online.
After Field's death in 1929, a group of his colleagues, including Yasuo Kuniyoshi, Bernard Karfiol, Robert Laurent, Wood Gaylor, Stefan Hirsch, and David Morrison created the Hamilton Easter Field Foundation, which aided fellow artists by buying their work and displaying it. It was housed at the Barn Gallery and then given to the Portland Museum of Art, where it is today.
- John D. Bardwell (1 December 1994). Ogunquit By-The-Sea. Arcadia Publishing. ISBN 978-0-7385-8834-6.
- Image credit: Mark Sublette Medicine Man Gallery Tucson AZ
- An image of this painting can be seen at The Cobbs, Auctioneers: http://www.thecobbs.com/auction-2013-03-16-lot-99.html
- "Stefan Hirsch in New Fields; Artist Shows Surrealist and Mexican Subjects". New York Sun. 1932-11-23. p. 14.
- "Keywords and quick facts for Stefan A. Hirsch". askart.com. Retrieved 2014-07-29.
- Edward Alden Jewell (1935-02-05). "American Murals On Exhibition Here". New York Times. p. 17.
- Edward Alden Jewell (1937-05-09). "Realm of Art: Murals and Architectural Sculpture: New Work". New York Times. p. X9.
Mr. Hirsch contributed these murals, in true neighborly spirit, to Lenox Hill House, receiving no remuneration. The work, begun in 1934, was interrupted for a time, when Mr. Hirsch joined the art faculty of Bennington College, and had thenceforth to be carried on during Winter and Summer vacations.
- "Hirsch Murals Exhibited". New York Times. 1937-05-12. p. 21.
- "South Carolina's New Deal Murals". Palmetto Past, South Carolina Department of Archives and History. Retrieved 2014-07-31.
Stefan Hirsch’s “Justice as Protector and Avenger” in the Charles E. Simmons, Jr. Federal Court House in Aiken was the cause of public outrage. The bold use of shape and color echoed stylistic elements of the Mexican muralist Diego Rivera. The strong angles and contrasting colors led presiding Judge Frank K. Myers to derisively call it “contemporary art.” But it wasn’t just the modern appearance that made citizens upset, it was the figure of Justice herself. Some believed that she was bi-racial, which was not considered to be in keeping with the “Southern conception of art.” Even though the artist denied that the figure was bi-racial, this un-vanilla representation of Justice in Jim Crow South Carolina was enough for the judge to hang curtains over the mural. Since then, the mural has remained obscured, since it is viewed as being a courtroom distraction.
- Karal Ann Marling (1982). Wall-to-wall America: Post Office Murals in the Great Depression. U of Minnesota Press. pp. 64–68. ISBN 978-0-8166-3673-0.
- "Stefan Hirsch—Living New Deal". livingnewdeal.berkeley.edu. 2014. Retrieved 2014-07-16.
- Despite the change in subject, the mural, somewhat confusingly, retains its original title.
- Edward Alden Jewell (1941-01-31). "Hirsch Paintings Placed on Display". New York Times. p. 14.
- Edward Alden Jewell (1932-11-22). "Art: Other Shows Downtown". New York Times. p. 18.
- "Marriages". New York Times. 1931-01-25. p. N8.
Hirsch-Rogo—The marriage of Elsa Rogo to Stefan Hirsch, son of Angelo Hirsch of New York, Jan. 15, at home, 110 Columbia Heights, Brooklyn.
- "Stefan Hirsch in household of Angelo Hirsch". United States Census, 1930 on FamilySearch.org. Retrieved 2014-07-16.
Angelo Hirsch, Head of household, age 67, born in Germany; Stefan Hirsch, Son, 31, Germany; Dorothy Hirsch, Daughter, 21, Germany; Leona Czesmadia, Servant, 48, Czechoslovakia, Betty Koenigsruter, Servant, 28, Germany
- "Mrs. Robert Laurent and Her Children". Brooklyn Museum: American Art. Retrieved 2014-07-29.
- Stefan Hirsch (1935-01-10). "Letters to the Editor: Mr. Hirsch Not Professor". New York Times. p. 18.
I am not a professor. Bennington, thank God, does not bestow titles; they pay decent salaries instead. Furthermore, I am not head of the art department there. The art department of this college has no one head, but consists of all heads. We have, however, to be accurate on my part, a chairman of the art division, Edgar Avery Park, who would deserve the title "head of the art department."
- Edward Alden Jewell (1941-08-10). "The Problem of 'Seeing'; Vitally Important Matter of Approach—American Artist and His Public". New York Times. p. X7.
[Samuel M. Kootz writes that American artists are complacent men whose work is a "pleasant, harmless, dispirited series of anecdotes.... Rigor mortis has set in.... Notice the uniform envelope of stated style, the placid thinking, the courteous, suave lack of imagination.... [N]ow's the time for experiment.... get a new approach, do some delving for a change.
- Stefan Hirsch (1941-02-02). "Opinions Under Postage: Views of the 'Bombshell'". New York Times. p. X5.
Mr. Kootz...deflects our eyes from the inward nature of art and directs it toward a superficial and mechanistic remedy.... No amount of experiment will make artists greater. Experiment will only make them different.
- Samuel M. Kootz (1941-10-05). "'Bombshell' Clarified: Mr. Kootz Elaborates His Point of View, Pointing Up Issues in the Controversy". New York Times. p. X9.
- Stefan Hirsch (1941-10-12). "'Bombshell' Opinions". New York Times. p. X9.
- "Dorothy T. Hirsch". United States Census, 1940, Deerfield Town, Oneida, New York, United States; citing enumeration district (ED) 33-16, sheet 1A, family 5, NARA digital publication of T627, roll 2700. Retrieved 31 July 2014.
- The 1940 Census of the United States shows Dorothy T. Hirsch as a nurse in a tuberculosis sanitarium in Deerfield Town, Oneida, New York.
- "Geni - Stefan Hirsch (1899-d.)". geni.com [genealogical database]. Retrieved 2014-07-16.
Stefan Hirsch, birth: January 2, 1899; Immediate Family: Son of Angelo Hirsch and Florence Hirsch, Husband of Else Hirsch, Brother of Alice Gundelfinger and Dorothy Hirsch