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Lifting the Rose-Colored Glasses:
Three Social Realists

June 7 - July 29, 2005
Emily Lowe Gallery, Lowe Hall


This exhibition features prints and drawings by three important Social Realist artists: William Gropper, Ben Shahn, and Raphael Soyer.

The most important movement in American art during the late 20s and 30s was the American Scene movement. Complex and contradictory, it represented the fervent wish that America had artistically come of age, as well as the ultimate rejection of the modern art movement as it had developed in Europe. Two distinct tendencies were part of the American Scene Movement--Regionalism and Social Realism.

The three artists represented in this exhibition were interested in the period's social problems, such as the miseries of poverty and unemployment, middle-class materialism, and racial discrimination--problems that we are still grappling with today. They presented commonly shared experiences, especially those of the urban poor and the working classes with whom they could easily identify. They pictured them with a tenderness and a genuine understanding that was totally lacking in the often facile optimism of the same subjects treated by the artists known as "the Eight." Gropper and Shahn fiercely criticized the system in their art--they found nothing redeeming or picturesque in poverty or human suffering.But in spite of the similarities in purpose, each of the artists--Gropper, Soyer, and Shahn--created a distinctive style within the boundaries of social realism.

Without a doubt, the most powerful social commentator of his day was William Gropper. He continually pilloried the smug, the complacent, the overprivileged, and ignorant. His prints are characterized by a vigorous, graphic, and scathing line, and no injustice escaped his notice. Raphael Soyer sympathetically examined many facets of life among the city's working classes, and his images of women working are almost icons of the family. Satirical portrayals of human foibles, indignation about injustice and the human condition, and contrasts of life are the subjects Shahn uses; and later in life he moved into a more personal interpretation of what he saw and felt about events of the time. The works in the exhibition have the power to move the viewer, not only because of their artistic vigor, but also as a commentary on a period that is still not too far away from us.

This collection of historic prints is produced by Blair-Murrah, the service organization that provides a wide range of historic, cultural, educational and contemporary exhibitions to institutions throughout the world.

Lifting the Rose-Colored Glasses: Three Social Realists

  • William Gropper - Grandfather

  • Ben Shahn - To Days of Childhood

  • Raphael Soyer - Waitresses


  • Converging Voices: Gender and Identity
  • Women in Contrast