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 Benjamin D. Kopman  (1887 - 1965)

About: Benjamin D. Kopman
 

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Lived/Active: New York/New Jersey / Russian Federation      Known for: fantasy figure, genre, illustrator

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Benjamin Kopman (1887-1966)

Vitebsk, the birth place of Benjamin Kopman, was one of the largest Jewish communities in Europe in 1900 with a Jewish population of 34,420.  It was a center of religious Judaism with a strong Habad presence, but also had a very active Zionist community.  

Unlike many Russian communities, Vitebsk did not experience pogroms around the turn of the 20th century.  Thus, when 16 year old Benjamin Kopman and his family emigrated to the United States in 1903, it was likely for economic gain rather than religious freedom.  

In New York Kopman was tutored by Abel Pan, who had studied at the Yehdua Penn’s Vitebsk Academy.  In 1905 Kopman enrolled at the National Academy of Art where he remained for 6 semesters.  In 1913 Kopman became a US citizen and he lived on East 14th Street in Manhattan during and after WWI.  His first prestigious exhibition was at the annual exhibition of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in 1914.  

“Kopman participated in exhibitions sponsored by the People’s Art Guild from 1915 to 1917 held at settlement houses and neighborhood centers in Manhattan and the Bronx…  He also exhibited with Jennings Tofel and Claude Buck as part of the Introspective group of painters…  In 1925 Kopman and Tofel founded the Jewish Art center which held exhibitions for two seasons in the East Village.”[1]

Kopman worked for the WPA as an artist during the Depression.  He enjoyed solo exhibitions at the New Art Circle in 1937, ACA Galleries in 1945, Phillips Memorial gallery in Washington D.C. in the same year, and several others venues in future years.

Kopman most likely had a Jewish education in Vitebsk, as “his intense mysticism and emotionality have their source in the Kabbalah.”[1]  

In his use of heavy black outlines and often primitive style Kopman suggest the influence of Henri Rousseau and Georges Roualt.  Critic, Henry McBride, commented in a review of Kopman’s work s at the Carnegie Institute, “I’d rather have Mr. Kopman’s picture any day than the work by Roualt in the neighboring French room.”[7]

A recurrent theme in exhibitions and from Kopman himself is the contradiction between Kopman’s outstanding skills and relatively limited recognition.  

“But in the annals of painting, the case of Benjamin Kopman is probably unique.  Three times in his long career – in the Thirties – in the Forties and in the Fifties – he has been hailed by discriminating critics as a painter of major dimensions…  Why, then, did he not achieve the popularity he deserves?”[7] Selden Rodman concludes that Kopman was a retiring individual who did not promote himself.  Even in 1941 this same characterization was apt.  “Shy and retiring by nature he shuns the outer world, spending sixteen to twenty hours of the day painting or writing verse [in Yiddish]… His long years of toil have yielded little more than the barest necessities.”[8]

In 1958 Kopman himself wrote, in an apparent defense against abstract expressionism, “Because we live in an age of speed, some people who never cared for art turned away from my work using the excuse that it has not moved fast enough.  They do not realize that the very speed they so admire will fly by them, and they will remain wondering what has happened.”[9]

Kopman married his wife, Feiga, around 1927.  She was the sister of fellow artist and Introspective member, Claude Buck.  In 1930 they were living at 207 East 19th Street in Manhattan with no children.  Both Benjamin and Feiga are described as “artists” in census data.  Feiga died in 1964.

Kopman’s work is held in the collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art, Museum of Modern Art, Brooklyn Museum, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, and many others.

Sources:
(1)  Kleeblatt & Chevlove, Painting a Place in America: Jewish Artists in New York 1900-1945, Jewish Museum of New York.
(2) Lozowick, Louis.  100 Contemporary American Jewish Painters and Sculptors, Art Section, YKUF, 1947.
(3) JewishGen.org.
(4) Ancestry.com.
(5) Syracuse University Library, library.syr.edu.
(6)Smithsonian Archives, SIRIS-archives.si.edu.
(7) Rodman, Selden, Benjamin Kopman, exhibition catalogue, Klutznick Exhibit Hall, January 15 to March 15, 1964.
(8) Thompson, G.D., Exhibition of Paintings Gouaches by Benjamin Kopman, A.C.A. Gallery, February 9-22, 1941.
(9) Benjamin Kopman: Paintings and Drawings, World House Galleries, January 28 to February 22, 1958.

 
Information provided by Steven Wasser, http://www.AmericanJewishArt.com

This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Jewish-American artist, Benjamin Kopman was born in Russia and came to the U.S. in 1903 where he studied at the National Academy of Design. He was a painter, illustrator, and sculptor and exhibited widely including the Pennsylvania Academy, the Corcoran Gallery, and the Salons of America. His illustration work included the novels "Crime and Punishment" in 1944 and "Frankenstein" in 1948.

His work is in the collections of the Whitney Museum, Museum of Modern Art, Boston Museum, and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art. Kopman became a well-known "American Scene" artist. He was also part of the WPA project in the US.

Source:
T P LaRose
Peter Falk, "Who Was Who in American Art"

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Benjamin Kopman is also mentioned in these AskART essays:
San Francisco Panama-Pacific Exhibition 1915

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