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 William Gropper  (1897 - 1977)

About: William Gropper
 

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Lived/Active: New York      Known for: genre-satire, religious painting, illustration

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BIOGRAPHY for William Gropper
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Birth
1897 (New York City)
 
Death
1977 (Great Neck Estates, New York)

Lived/Active
New York

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genre-satire, religious painting, illustration

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
New-York born artist William Gropper was a painter and cartoonist who, with caricature style, focused on social concerns, and was actively engaged in support of the organized labor movement throughout his career.  During the 1930s, working as a part of the Federal Arts Project, he produced some of the most gripping social protest works of the Great Depression. Subjects included industrial strikes and incidents of strike breaking, especially in the coal mining and steel-production centers. He did much illustration-cartoon work for the New York Tribune newspaper, Vanity Fair magazine and the politically 'left-wing' publication, "New Masses."

Gropper's painting, Youngstown Strike, has received much attention for its strong, social-realist impact and was apparently prompted by the extended strikes staged in 1936-37 by workers at the Youngstown Sheet and Tube Company, Youngstown, Ohio.  During these years chaos frequently reigned throughout much of the city. In one incident, following a savage confrontation with police guards by workers and their families, the police tear gassed and shot at the workers; two strikers were killed and twenty-eight injured.  Gropper visited Youngstown during this period, and commented on the incident in an article and a series of descriptive action sketches published in The Nation.

Some of his other pieces focused on the hypocrisy of government figures, especially members of the United States Senate.

As a young man, William Gropper was a student of Robert Henri and George Bellows at the Ferrer School from 1912 to 1915.  He did fine-art painting on the side until the early 1920s, and had his first solo exhibition in 1936.  In 1938, he completed a mural for the Department of the Interior in Washington DC.

Sources:
Howard E Wooden at Butlerart.com
Dictionary of American Art by Matthew Baigell


Biography from D. Wigmore Fine Art, Inc.:
William Gropper was born in New York City's Lower East Side in 1897. He was the first of six children to parents who earned small wages working in sweatshops. At the age of fourteen, Gropper left school to help support his family. While carrying bolts of cloth for his deliveries, Gropper began to draw on scraps of paper, sidewalks, and walls. A passerby saw some of these drawings and invited Gropper to attend a life-drawing class at the Ferrer School. He studied there for three years from 1912 to 1915, attending classes taught by Robert Henri and George Bellows. From 1915 to 1918 Gropper attended the New York School of Fine and Applied Art part-time on scholarship. Gropper also won a scholarship to the National Academy of Design, but remained as a student for only a short time; the rigid and systematic institution conflicted with Gropper's belief in the personal nature of art.

At the New York School of Fine and Applied Art, Gropper earned several prizes. One of these prizes was for his cartoons, which led him to be hired by the New York Tribune in 1917 to sketch for their features. A few years later through freelance work, his cartoons and drawings appeared in other newspapers and magazines, such as The Liberator, The New Masses, The New York Post, The New Yorker and Vanity Fair.

By the late 1920s Gropper was an established cartoonist and draughtsman. He sympathized with the labor movement and was a champion of peace and personal liberty. Gropper began to paint seriously, but privately, on these themes in 1921. Gropper’s first exhibition of monotypes was held in 1921 at the Washington Square Book Shop in New York. At this time, he also began to do illustrations for books. Gropper took his first sketching trip in 1924 to the West with Morris Pass.

By 1930 Gropper began to receive recognition as a fine artist. In 1934, he received two mural commissions from the Schenley Corporation in New York City. In 1935, he was commissioned to paint a mural for the Hotel Taft in New York City. In 1936, Gropper received several public mural commissions: one was for the Freeport, Long Island Post Office, which was completed in 1938 and followed by another mural for the Northwestern Postal Station, Detroit, Michigan.

In his first gallery exhibition in 1936 at ACA Galleries, Gropper's work was so well received by critics, collectors, and artists that the following year he had two one-man exhibitions at ACA Galleries. In 1937, Gropper traveled west on a Guggenheim Fellowship and visited the Dust Bowl and the Hoover and Grand Coulee Dams, sketching studies for a series of paintings and a mural he painted for the Department of the Interior in Washington, DC. That same year he had paintings purchased by both the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art.

Gropper exhibited at the 1939 New York World's Fair, Whitney Museum of American Art (1924-55), Art Institute of Chicago (1935-49), Carnegie International (1937-50), Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (1939-48), and National Academy of Design (1945-48). He was a founder of the Artists Equity Association and member of the National Institute of Arts and Letters.

From 1940 to 1945 William Gropper was preoccupied with anti-Nazi cartoons, pamphlets, and war bond posters.  In 1943 he was selected by the War Department Art Advisory Committee to go to Africa and make a pictorial record of the war front there. In 1944 he participated in the exhibition Artists for Victory at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, winning first prize in lithography. In 1944 Gropper moved from Herman Baron’s ACA Galleries to the gallery Associated American Artists, where he was given a one-man exhibition. In 1945 Gropper covered the charter conference of the United Nations in San Francisco for the left-wing periodicals Freiheit and The New Masses.

During the 1950s Gropper was attacked for his refusal to cooperate with the McCarthy Committee and the effect was an end to his exhibitions and commissions until 1961. After a major traveling retrospective exhibition in 1968-1970, William Gropper was offered the position of Artist-in-Residence at the Museum of Arts and Science, Evansville, Indiana. Gropper was given a major traveling exhibition of his drawings in 1971.

He died in 1977.

Biography from The Johnson Collection:
William Gropper was a painter and political cartoonist who is best remembered for his striking social commentary. He was born in 1897 on the Lower East Side in New York City to a large, poor immigrant family. Due to the family’s financial difficulties, Gropper was forced to leave school at a very young age and work in a garment sweatshop with his mother and siblings. Several years later, he enrolled in art classes at the socially progressive Ferrer School where he received instruction from noted Ashcan artists Robert Henri and George Bellows. Gropper later recalled the influence of these men saying, "Right then, I began to realize that you don't paint with color—you paint with conviction, freedom, love and heartaches, with what you have."

Following his time at the Ferrer School, Gropper continued his education at the Chase School, later known as Parson’s School of Design. After graduation, Gropper briefly illustrated for the New York Tribune, during which time he began contributing to socialist publications, such as The New Masses, Labor Defender and The Nation. In 1924, he began a long career as a regular cartoonist for the Freiheit, a left-wing Yiddish daily newspaper.

As his career progressed in the 1930s, Gropper turned his attention more towards painting. In addition to the early influence of Henri and Bellows, he also looked to Cubism for inspiration and incorporated sharp angles and exaggerated figures in his paintings. In the 1930s and 1940s, Gropper completed several murals for New York businesses, and for post offices in Detroit and on Long Island. In 1937, Gropper was awarded a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship which he used to travel to the Great Plains and to the Southeast. In 1942, he painted Field Workers, based on sketches made while in the South. It was completed during the height of his career as a painter and the saturated coloring and exaggerated angles are characteristic of his mature painting style.

Though Gropper worked in different mediums his subject was always people, and he is often referred to as "the workingman's protector." In an interview, Gropper explained his motivations for exposing the wrongs committed against workers, "That's my heritage. I'm from the old school, defending the underdog. Maybe because I've been an underdog or still am. I put myself in their position. I feel for the people . . . I become involved."

The Johnson Collection, Spartanburg, South Carolina
www.thejohnsoncollection.org

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