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 Leonard Baskin  (1922 - 2000)

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Lived/Active: Massachusetts/New York/New Brunswick/New Jersey      Known for: mod figure-bird, graphics, sculpture

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Ad Code: 3
Leonard Baskin
from Auction House Records.
Seated Man with Cloven Hoof
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
A highly respected draftsman, printmaker, teacher, and sculptor, Leonard Baskin had the ability to depict in an abstract style man and his relation to the world.  Whether working with bronze or wood or two-dimensional mediums, his focus remained on large heroic, but flawed human beings who at times recall photographic images of concentration-camp victims or birds with human bodies that suggest mythological forms.

Born in 1922 in New Brunswick, New Jersey, Baskin studied sculpture with Maurice Glickman at the Educational Alliance, New York City, from 1937 to 1943.  He had many influences at that time including Ossip Zadkine, Henri Laurens, and Alexander Archipenko.

In 1949, he began to make wood engravings, and his attitude toward the nature of man grew more generalized, but no less moralistic or didactic.  In style these works are closest to German Die Brucke prints.  At this time he studied abroad at the Academie de la Grande Chaumiere, Paris, and the Accademia di Belle Arti, Florence.  During this period, he got extensive familiarization with the Great European Collections, many which helped release in him the sculptural images he has since used.

For many years, he was a professor of sculpture at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts.


Source:
Matthew Baigell. The Dictionary of American Art


Biography from Annex Galleries:
Printmaker, sculptor and book designer, Leonard Baskin was born in New Brunswick, New Jersey, the son of a rabbi.  In 1937-39 he studied with the sculptor Maurice Glickman, and in 1939 had his first one-man show in NewYork.  He attended New York (1939-41) and Yale (1941-43) universities and then served in the U.S. Navy during World War 11 before continuing his studies at the New School for Social Research in New York.

The year of his graduation (1949) Baskin began making prints.  In 1950 he went to Paris and studied at the Acadamie de la Grande Chaumiare, and the following year to Florence to work at the Accademia di Belle Arti.  Baskin's traditional training and his conviction that art should serve one's fellow man made him a rather unique figure during the 1950s, when abstraction and the expression of one's personal feelings held sway.  Rather than experimenting with new formal structures, media, or techniques, Baskin developed a mastery of old techniques -woodcarving, woodcuts, etching, and lithography-and determined to use his work for social ends.  During the 1950s he began a series of full-length standing figures of "dead men" in stone, bronze, and wood.  Related to these are his "Birdmen" (human figures with bird heads that are reminiscent of certain statues of Egyptian gods) and his "Oppressed Men" (often featuring an owl -another favorite theme-standing on the head of a man).  All of these figures represent "universal man" struggling with the problems of life and death, aspiration, immortality, and corruption. In his prints Baskin extends the psychological overtones of his sculpture even further, frequently producing powerful brooding, and even tortured, images.  Much of the strength of these works derives from his bold cutting technique, which exploits the texture of the wood, and from his mastery of black and white.

Perhaps the two greatest influences on Baskin's work are Japanese calligraphy and German expressionism (the artists he admires most are Kaethe Kollwitz and Ernst Barlach).  Defending the so-called "literary" or "journalistic" qualities of his work, Baskin has noted: "All art is propaganda.... The communication of an artistic idea is an act of propaganda."  He has stated that for him the most important subject is "anxiety-ridden man, imprisoned in his ungainly self," and has illustrated this theme in such prints as Hanged Man, Angel of Death, and Oppressed Bird with Human Aspects.

Like his black ink drawings on white paper, Baskin's graphics are technically brilliant.  His most recent work is a series of bronze sculptures-many with an elegiac air-on the usual themes of death and compassion, and like all his work they display an odd combination of sophistication with the seemingly primitive."  Baskin is often termed a romantic humanist," perhaps a result of his disavowal of the "purely decorative" and "the private world of the artist."

He has long been interested in book illustration and founded the Gehenna Press, Northampton, Mass., which prints and publishes limited editions. A typical volume would be Homed Beetles and Other Insects, for which Baskin has provided thirty-four etchings; however, his interest extends beyond illustration into total book design: the integrating of type, paper, illustrations, and binding to form an esthetic object.  Baskin has taught at Smith College since 1953 and has won numerous awards including the Printmaking Prize at the Sao Paulo Biennial (1961) and medals from the American Institute of Graphic Arts (1965) and the National Institute of Arts and Letters (1969)

Biography from R. Michelson Galleries:
Leonard Baskin was born in 1922, in New Brunswick, New Jersey, to Rabbi Samuel Baskin and May Guss Baskin. Religious themes as well as mythological symbolism and images of human nature have been entwined throughout his career, serving as the subjects of many of his works. Baskin became intrigued by Greek history, philosophy and mythology at an early age and now the central object of many of his sculptures and paintings is the sibyl, the prophetic female from Greek mythology.

Perhaps Baskin's best known image is the bird, either as subject matter in itself, or as a form of life emanating from humanity, as a caricature of perceived human ills. "The link between Baskin's images is his humanism. His sculpture of the human figure depict the grace and mystery of woman, pay homage to man the individual. Other works, in sculpture and on paper, portray the evil side of humankind. Although Baskin treats the frailties and injustice of humankind in all media, his caring for human beings and the human condition is ever present."

Baskin's sculpture, watercolors, and prints are in the permanent collections of most of the world's major art galleries and museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Museum of Modern Art, the Vatican Museum, and the Smithsonian. Leonard Baskin's main focus throughout his life was sculpture: "My sculptures are memorials to ordinary human beings, gigantic monuments to the unnoticed dead: the exhausted factory worker, the forgotten tailor, the unsung poet... Sculpture at its greatest and most monumental is about simple, abstract, emotional states, like fear, pride, love and envy... Over the years I have developed a series of images of predatory birds and vicious human beings as well as producing a bizarre motley of iconic devices that say...BASKIN!"

Source includes:

An excerpt from Angel to the Jews, by John Whitney Payson, 1991

Biography from RoGallery.com:
A highly known draftsman, printmaker and sculptor, Leonard Baskin had the ability to depict in an abstract style man and his relation to the world.  Whether working with bronze or wood or two-dimensional mediums, his focus remained on large heroic, but flawed human beings who at times recall photographic images of concentration-camp victims or birds with human bodies that suggest mythological forms, i.e. Crow Man in walnut, 1962.

Born in 1922 in New Brunswick, New Jersey, Baskin studied sculpture with Maurice Glickman at the Educational Alliance, New York City, from 1937 to 1943.  He had many influences at that time including Ossip Zadkine, Henri Laurens, and Alexander Archipenko.

In 1949, he began to make wood engravings, and his attitude towards the nature of man grew more generalized, but no less moralistic or didactic.  In style these works are closest to German Die Brucke prints.  At this time he studied abroad at the Academie de la Grande Chaumiere, Paris, and the Accademia di Belle Arti, Florence.  During this period, he got extensive familiarization with the Great European Collections, many which helped release in him the sculptural images he has since used.

For many years, he was a professor of sculpture at Smith College in Northhampton, Massachusetts.

Biography from The Columbus Museum of Art, Georgia:
Leonard Baskin was born in 1922 in New Brunswick, New Jersey, and was raised in Brooklyn, New York. (1)  From 1937 to 1943, he studied sculpture with Maurice Glickman at the Educational Alliance in New York City.  At the age of 17, he had his first exhibition of sculpture at Glickman’s Studio Gallery.  Baskin studied at Yale University from 1941 to 19­43, and he earned a B.A. at the New School for Social Research in 1949.

In the early 1950s, Baskin studied in Florence and Paris.  He taught printmaking and sculpture at Smith College in Northhampton, Massachusetts for 21 years beginning in 1953.  During this time, he founded Gehenna Press, which published more than 100 fine-art illustrated editions. 

Baskin created many important public commissions, including sculpture for the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial and the Woodrow Wilson Memorial, in both Washington D.C., and the Holocaust Memorial in Ann Arbor, MI.  The artist received numerous honors, among them the Jewish Cultural Achievement Award, the Gold Medal of the National Academy of Arts and Letters, and a Guggenheim Fellowship.

His works are in major public institutions, such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the British Museum.

Although he worked as a printmaker, draftsman, and book designer, Baskin's principal focus throughout his life was sculpture.  He was a traditionalist who carved in wood and stone, and modeled in clay.  The inspiration for his work came from a variety of sources, including the Bible, ancient Greek literature and modern Western poetry.  As the son of a Rabbi, Baskin was educated at a yeshiva; Jewish imagery was to be an important element of his work. (2)

The iconic, monolithic imagery of Ancient Egyptian and Sumerian art influenced the formal aspects of his work.  He was an outspoken critic of naturalism, which he argued is concerned only with physical truths, and abstraction, which he saw as forsaking the human figure.  He considered the human figure to be the main subject matter of his work, and he used the human figure and various animals as visual allegories for human spirituality.  He was very interested in both the imperfections of humanity and the fact that human beings bear the image of God. Baskin’s use of avian or animal images, such as the raven and dogs, allowed him to explore this duality.(3)

(1). Biographical information taken from the following: Irma B. Jaffe, The Sculpture of Leonard Baskin, New York: Viking, 1980; Jaffe, “Baskin, Leonard,” in the Grove Encyclopedia of Art; and John Payson, Leonard Baskin: Angels to the Jews, New York: Midtown Payson Galleries, 1991.

(2). A yeshiva is an Orthodox Jewish school.

(3). Thanks to Daphne A. Deeds, “Leonard Baskin,” Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery, Lincoln, NE, 2000.  The Sheldon exhibited Leonard Baskin: The Ultimate Need, from May 9 – July 23, 2000.  It was an exhibition of fourteen artworks that surveyed the unique aesthetics of one of the twentieth century's great draftsmen and expressionists, and was drawn primarily from the Gallery's permanent collection. Kristen Miller Zohn, Columbus Museum

Biography from Boca Raton Museum of Art:
Leonard Baskin (American, Born New Jersey 1922-2000)

The son of a Rabbi, Baskin was educated at a yeshiva, which had a profound effect on his aesthetic.  He studied at Yale University and received his B.A. at the New School for Social Research in 1949.  In the 1950s, Baskin began teaching printmaking and sculpture at Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts, where he remained until 1974.  In 1959 Baskin was included in the exhibition The New Images of Man, at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, and in 1968, his sculpture was in the XXXIV Venice Biennale.

Religious themes as well as mythological symbolism and images of human nature have been entwined throughout his career, serving as the subjects of many of his works.  Baskin's art is concerned with depicting the tensions and contradictions of the human condition through figurative expressionism.  He utilizes the human figure as well as animals as visual metaphors for human spirituality, the tragic and comic elements of humanity, and an exploration of the "bestial" as well as the "divine" inherent in human existence.

Baskin’s most prominent public commissions include sculpture for the Roosevelt Memorial and the Woodrow Wilson Memorial, both in Washington D.C., and the Holocaust Memorial in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  His work is in major private and public institutions, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the British Museum, and the Vatican Museums.

Baskin has received many awards and honors, including a Guggenheim Fellowship. Baskin's work is in the permanent collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, The Nation Museum of American Art, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, The Seattle Art Museum, and the Vatican Museum.

Information provided by The Boca Raton Museum of Art. Catalina Torres (Intern)

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