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 George Biddle  (1885 - 1973)

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Lived/Active: Pennsylvania/California      Known for: genre, portrait and figure painting, murals

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George Biddle
from Auction House Records.
"Ringling Brothers: Equestrians and Midget" Circa 1948
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
George Biddle’s autobiography of 1939, An American Artist’s Story, is the main source for any study of the artist.  Most of Biddle’s tale involves Depression-era, American Scene mural painting, for which Biddle was personally responsible, by suggesting a government-sponsored program to his old friend and classmate Franklin D. Roosevelt.  Born on January 24, 1885 in Philadelphia, Biddle received his B.A. from Harvard where he then completed his doctorate in law.  He received art instruction at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, at the Académie Julian in Paris and then in Munich.  During the first world war, Biddle lived in Giverny (1915-16) where he painted outdoor nudes such as Back of a Nude with Parasol (Eleanor and Irv Welling) and Summer 1919 in an impressionist manner.  During this last wave of American expatriate painters at Giverny, Biddle was clearly influenced by Frederick Frieseke, as he explained (Biddle, 1939, p. 149): “Long summers I spent in Giverny near my friend Fred Frieseke, painting in the good plein air, impressionist tradition.  Frieseke had a clear palette.  I fell into it as a duck takes to water, after the mud of Munich, Julien’s [sic] and the Pennsylvania Academy.”  Biddle added that one could see Monet “over his garden wall;” he knew Louis Ritman, and  mentioned three other influential figures: Adolphe Borie (on whom he wrote a monograph in 1937), Degas, and Mary Cassatt.  He even met Rodin.

Captain George Biddle served in the G2 Section of the First Army Corps during the war, was discharged in April 1919, and traveled clear to Tahiti to erase the memories of war and to find peace (1920-22).  There he explored various media: wood and stone sculpture, wood block prints and even marquetry.  The Pennsylvania Academy has his painting Tahitians from that trip, which reflects Gauguin’s influence in the outlining of forms — here almost a cloisonnisme, while the human figures have a statuesque massiveness.  There is no trace of the accidental lighting in the Frieseke-inspired taches of sunlight of the earlier period.

Biddle returned to America, this time to New York City and continued with sculpture, but soon he was back in Paris.  That was during an exciting decade of American expatriatism — when even some bohemians were well off financially and there was plenty of intellectual and aesthetic stimulation, as Brancusi, Zadkine, Marie Laurencin, Léger, and Chagall met in the café crowd.  Biddle visited Gertrude Stein’s salon, met James Joyce, Marsden Hartley, and other stars of modernism.  He dropped in on Cassatt in January 1926, five months before her death.  She still had praise for Degas, and wondered what the world was coming to when such art as Laurencin’s was widely accepted.  In April, John Singer Sargent dies in his sleep — another great American expatriate who witnessed the flowering of impressionism.  American art had passed beyond impressionism and Biddle would soon be a leader in the promotion of a dynamic national school of mural art.  Biddle’s A Woman with a Letter (1933), which recalls both Raphael Soyer and Charles Demuth, is in the Metropolitan Museum of ArtHis own murals include Society Freed through Justice in the Justice Department (1936; now in the University of Maryland), American Revolutionary scenes in the New Brunswick, New Jersey Post Office (1939), two large panels in the Biblioteca Nacional, Rio de Janeiro (1942) and two murals for the Supreme Court Building in Mexico City (1944).  The Whitney Museum of American Art has Biddle’s Winter in Tortilla Flat (1941).  He died at Croton-on-Hudson, New York in 1973.

Sources:
Biddle, George. An American Artist’s Story. Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1939; Boswell, Peyton Jr. Modern American Painting. New York: Dodd, Mead and Co., 1940, pp. 95-96; Saint-Gaudens, Homer. The American Artist and His Times. New York: Dodd, Mead and Co., 1941, pp. 250, 275-276; Gruskin, Alan D. Painting in the U.S.A. Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Co., 1946, p. 158; Pagano, Grace. The Encyclopaedia Britannica Collection of Contemporary American Painting. Chicago: 1946, cat. no. 7; Baigell, Matthew. The American Scene: American Painting in the 1930's. New York: Praeger, 1974, pp. 46, 51, 70; Contreras, Belisario R. Tradition and Innovation in New Deal Art. London and Toronto: Associated University Presses,  1983; Park, Marlene and Gerald E. Markowitz, Democratic Vistas: Post Offices and Public Art in the New Deal. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1984, pp. 218, 234; Zellman, 1987, p. 805; Preato, Robert R. and Sandra L. Langer. Impressionism and Post-Impressionism: Transformations in the Modern American Mode 1885-1945. New York: Grand Central Art Galleries, 1988, pp. 44-45, 80; Gerdts, 1993, pp. 206-208, 214.

Submitted by Michael Preston Worley, Ph.D.


This biography from the Archives of AskART:

George Biddle, sculptor, painter and graphic artist and illustrator was born in Philadelphia in 1885.  Biddle's early academic schooling was "constantly at war with natural creative instincts, and was possibly the cause for his two early breakdowns, at sixteen, and again at twenty-three." Biddle got an A.B. and LL.D. degree from Harvard and at the time accepted that he, like other Biddle's before him would follow in the tradition of the famous Biddle family of lawyers.  He passed the state bar exams at the age of twenty-six, and at the very same time, much to the chagrin of his family, "at last determined to become a painter" the war within was over.

He studied in Paris, Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (two years) and Munich. Biddle also studied with Ole Nordmark.  He stated "I gobbled up museums, French impressionism, cubism, futurism, the Old Masters; I copied Valequez in Madrid, Rubens in Munich; I fell under the spell of Mary Cassatt's' passion and integrity, and through her eyes I was influenced by Degas. I was desperately in earnest to overcome my late start."

The onset of the World War, in which Biddle served for two years, was another setback the artist had to overcome for he was already thirty-four and still a student.  Undeterred Biddle turned at first to Europe then the tropics for inspiration and spent two years in Polynesia toiling with failed attempts at expressionistic painting.  He then went to Paris to further experiment with stone and wood, and modeled in clay.  He cut block prints and made designs for marquetry, embroidery, stitch work and pottery. 

Of those years that he regarded as unhappy, he wrote in his autobiography:  "I began to feel how different from our own is the French mentality; and I realized how actually different in motivation and content is our own best American art."   He returned to America in 1922 at the age of thirty-seven.  In the early summer of 1930, he traveled to Charleston, South Carolina and made ink and watercolor sketches that he later transformed into oil paintings and lithographs.

During the mid thirties Biddle settled in Croton-on-Hudson with his second wife where he remained for the rest of his life.   Biddle used his friendship with Franklin Roosevelt to initiate the ambitious Federal Art Project, later known as the W.P.A., that employed artists of all sorts. Biddle completed murals for the New Brunswick, NJ, post office; Department of Justice Building in Washington, D.C. and others.

Biddle known as a social-realist painter who captured scenes from everyday life also employed this subject matter in his murals for the Department of Justice, painting "the underprivileged poor."  In the same work on another panel Biddle then "shows the same family transported to a better life in the suburbs."  It is the American dream realized.  This sentiment for America was captured further when Biddle stated "I for one would be deeply unhappy anywhere else.  But this goes not to the essence.  Of course an American, if he be one, will create best in terms of his America.   But as an artist, I must probe and know my own depths and then I can express not only my America but the world's life which is in each of us."

Biddle's work expressed not only "his America" but demonstrated a greater more worldly sensitivity in his art in that his subject matter drew universal appreciation.  He was also known for landscapes, cities, soldiers, mules, clowns, still lifes, flowers and nudes.

He wrote an autobiography, An American Artist's Story.  He also wrote and illustrated with fifty drawings a book, Green Island in 1930, and published articles in Scribner's Creative Arts, American Magazine of Art, Parnassus and The Arts.

Biddle was active in many art associations including Vice-President of theSociety of Painters, Sculptors and Gravers; and President, Society of Mural Painters.

He died in 1973.

Source:

Blake Benton Fine Art

 

 


 


This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Well educated and well traveled, George Biddle was known as a social-realist painter and muralist whose friendship with Franklin Roosevelt inspired the W.P.A.  He was born in Philadelphia and attended Harvard Law School, but in 1908, having passed his bar exam and also having suffered a nervous breakdown, he went to Texas and New Mexico to clear his head.  There he worked briefly as a cowhand, and during this period determined to be a painter.

He went to Paris in 1912 and studied at the Academie Julian, and then, returning home, enrolled in the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts from 1912 to 1914.  In 1915, he went to Madrid to study printmaking.

Biddle was in the Army during World War I and served in France.  After the war, he returned to Philadelphia and then went to Tahiti from 1920 to 1922, Paris from 1924 to 1926, and then became a resident of Croton-on-Hudson, New York in 1927.  A year later, he went on a sketching trip with Diego Rivera in Mexico.

In the early summer of 1930, he traveled to Charleston, South Carolina and made ink and watercolor sketches that he later made into oil paintings and lithographs.  In 1932, he painted in Polynesia and Italy and then returned to the United States where he persuaded President Franklin Roosevelt to initiate the Federal Art Project to employ artists.

In 1937, he taught at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, and in 1941, he became a teacher at the Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles.  Other teaching assignments were Saugatuck, Michigan in 1947, and the American Academy in Rome from 1951 to 1951.

He wrote several books:  His autobiography, An American Artist's Story, published in 1939; Green Island, 1930; Adolph Borie, 1937; Boardman Robinson, 1937; Artist at War, 1944; George Biddle's War Drawings, 1944; The Yes and No of Contemporary Art, 1957; Indian Impressions, 1959; and Tahitian Journal, 1968.

In 1943 he was an Artist War Correspondent for Life magazine in Tunisia, North Africa and Sicily.

Biddle died in Croton-on Hudson in 1973. His third wife was sculptor Helene Sardeau.


Sources include:
George Biddle, An American Artist's Story
John and Deborah Powers, Texas Painters, Sculptors, and Graphic Artists
dent, Society of Mural Painters and others.  His work is found in numerous important public and private collections both here and abroad.  He passed away in 1973.



This biography from the Archives of AskART:
George Biddle was born in Philadelphia, PA on Jan. 19, 1885. From a socially prominent family, Biddle graduated from Harvard Law School in 1911, but opted to become an artist and studied in Paris at Académie Julian. Most of his career was spent in New York at Croton-on-Hudson. While in California he spent 1901-02 on a ranch in Santa Barbara, and in 1941 he taught at Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles. He died in Croton, NY on Nov. 6, 1973. Exh: Palos Verdes Library, 1941; CPLH, 1953 (solo); UCLA, 1955 (solo). In: PAFA; Boston Museum; SFMA; MM; San Diego Museum; Phoenix Museum; Nat'l Library of Brazil (mural).
Source:
Edan Hughes, "Artists in California, 1786-1940"
American Art Annual 1917-33; Art Digest, 11-1-1937 & 6-1-1941; Los Angeles Times, 3-9-1941; Artists of the American West (Doris Dawdy); Artists of the American West (Samuels); Texas Painters (Powers); Who's Who in American Art 1936-73 (obituary).
Nearly 20,000 biographies can be found in Artists in California 1786-1940 by Edan Hughes and is available for sale ($150). For a full book description and order information please click here.

Biography from D. Wigmore Fine Art, Inc.:
George Biddle was born in 1885 to a prominent Philadelphia family. After receiving a law degree from Harvard University and being admitted to the Pennsylvania Bar in 1911, Biddle pursued a career in art instead. In 1911 Biddle went to Paris to study at the Académie Julian, returning to Philadelphia in 1912 to enroll at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Biddle returned to Europe in 1914 to study printmaking in Munich before going to Paris. The summers of 1915 and 1916 were spent with the American expatriate artist Frederick Carl Frieseke in Giverny. Edgar Degas and especially Mary Cassatt were friends of Biddle’s family and kept an eye on his artistic development while he was in France.

In 1917 Biddle returned to Philadelphia to pursue his career as an artist, but marriage and then service in the army interrupted his work. In 1919 when Biddle’s marriage failed, he traveled to Tahiti for isolation and inspiration. In Tahiti he experimented with linocuts, woodcuts and lithotints, as well as painting colorful images of the island and its natives. A one-man exhibition of Biddle’s Tahitian paintings was held at the Milch Gallery in 1920. In 1922 Biddle returned to the United States and worked in New York with a group of talented artists, some of whom- Marguerite and William Zorach, Elie Nadelman, and Gaston Lachaise- became lasting friends. He continued to work in various media and had several successful exhibitions in New York galleries, including Wildenstein and Weyhe Galleries.

Biddle returned to Paris for two years in 1924 to sculpt in stone, clay, and wood and work seriously as a printmaker again. In Paris he met Jules Pascin, who became a close friend and is credited with helping Biddle achieve greater plasticity. In 1925 Biddle re-married and traveled to Cuba and Haiti from 1926 to 1927.

In 1928 Biddle accompanied Diego Rivera on a sketching trip through Mexico. Impressed by the passion and the political and social awareness of the Mexican muralists, Biddle decided to devote his own art to the contemporary American scene and to paint the social, economic, and political issues facing America. A one-man exhibition of Biddle’s Mexican works was held at the Frank Rehn Gallery, his dealer until 1939, in New York in 1929. In 1933 Biddle proposed his idea of a government-sponsored mural program similar to the one he witnessed in Mexico to President Franklin D. Roosevelt. After many meetings with Roosevelt and other government officials, the Federal Arts Program was implemented.

In 1930 George and Ira Gershwin commissioned George Biddle to illustrate the libretto for Porgy and Bess. The artist spent May and June in Charleston, where he produced a large folio of drawings of the local people involved in everyday activities from which the illustrations for the libretto of Porgy and Bess were selected. Paintings created from the Charleston sketches were exhibited at the Downtown Gallery, New York. Biddle’s second marriage to Jane Belo ended in 1929 and in 1931 he married the Belgian sculptress Hélène Sardeau. The couple spent a year in Rome working on oils, drawings, lithographs, and ceramics. They returned in 1932 to the home Biddle had built in Croton-on-Hudson.

George Biddle executed his first mural in 1933 for the Century of Progress, the Chicago World’s Fair. In 1936 he executed a mural for the Department of Justice, Washington, DC. In 1940 Biddle collaborated with his wife to execute the frescoes and sculptures for the Supreme Court Building in Mexico City. In 1942 Biddle and Sardeau received the mural and sculpture commissions respectively for the Biblioteca Nacional in Rio de Janeiro. Biddle had his first teaching position at the Colorado Springs Fine Art Center from December 1936 to June 1937. In 1941 Biddle was the artist-in-residence at the Otis Art Institute in California. It was in Colorado Springs that Biddle executed Death on the Plains both in oil and in print form as a commentary on the drastic effects of the Dust Bowl droughts on the mid-Western farm states.

Biddle’s work was included in exhibitions at the Whitney Museum of American Art, the National Academy of Design, the Society of Independent Artists, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Colorado Springs Arts Center, the 1939 New York World’s Fair, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and the Associated American Artists Gallery from 1940 to 1949. Biddle became a member of artist organizations at this time such as the American Artists Group, Inc.; the Muralist Guild; the Society of Painters, Gravers, and Sculptors; and participated in the first American Artists Congress in 1936.

In 1943 Biddle was appointed Chairman of the U.S. War Artists Committee and spent six months with American troops in Tunisia, North Africa recording his observations in drawings and watercolors. Many of these works were published in George Biddle’s War Drawings in 1944. In 1950 George Biddle was appointed to a four-year term on the Fine Arts Commission by President Truman. Biddle spent the following year, from 1951 to 1952, as the artist-in-residence at the American Academy in Rome. He was awarded the Huntington Hartford Foundation Prize in 1954, which led him to be an artist-in-residence in 1955 at the Foundation’s home in one of the canyons of Los Angeles, California. He spent most of the following years in Croton and travel in later years took him to Japan, Southeast Asia, India and Italy. George

Biddle died in Croton on November 6, 1973.

Biography from David Cook Galleries:

George Biddle
Born Pennsylvania, 1885
Died New York, 1973

Born to a prominent family in Philadelphia, George Biddle put his interest in art aside to accommodate his family’s wishes and study law.  He graduated from Harvard University in 1908 and Harvard Law in 1911, becoming a member of the Philadelphia bar.  However, by the end of that same year Biddle abandoned law and began studying art at the Academie Julien in Paris. Biddle continued his studies at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts during 1912 and 1913.  He returned to Europe in 1914, studying in Munich and then in Madrid where he studied printmaking. Biddle also spent the summers of 1915 and 1916 painting Impressionist works France before he enlisted in the army in 1917.

Following World War I, Biddle experimented in sculpture and graphics in Tahiti for two years and then in France between 1924 and 1926.  In 1927, Biddle returned to the United States settling in Croton-on-Hudson, New York.  The following year, he traveled through Mexico on a sketching trip with Mexican muralist, Diego Rivera.

During the Great Depression, Biddle actively sought government funding for the arts. His correspondence with President Franklin D. Roosevelt (a former classmate at Groton Preparatory School and at Harvard) resulted in the establishment of the Federal Arts Project of the Works Progress Administration (WPA).  The Depression fueled Biddle’s desire to create socially conscious art.  He established himself as a Social Realist through powerful murals depicting poverty.

The Tenement, which he created in 1935 for the Department of Justice Building in Washington, D.C., was his first federally commissioned mural.  The project led to controversy as people deemed his depiction of poverty to be “inartistic”.

In addition to his artwork, Biddle authored several art books including An Artist at War and An American Artist’s Story, and he contributed regularly to national art magazines. In 1937, Biddle wrote the introduction for Boardman Robinson’s Ninety-Three Drawings, which was published by the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center (formerly the Broadmoor Academy) where he taught in 1936 and 1937.

In addition to teaching in Colorado, Biddle later taught at the Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles; the American Academy in Rome; and in Saugatuck, Michigan.  He served as chairman of the U.S. War Artists Committee during World War II and, in 1950, President Truman appointed him to the Fine Arts Commission, which he served for a term of fourteen-years.

Biddle’s work has been shown in over 100 one-man shows and numerous exhibitions.

EXHIBITED
Art Institute of Chicago, 1932-33, 1936, 1942; American Institute of Graphic Art, New York, 1927; Carnegie Institute, 1935, 1950 (solo); Corcoran Gallery of Art, 1916-1919, 1930-47, 1958 (solo); Detroit Institute of Arts, 1928; John Herron Art Institute, 1943; National Academy of Design, 1916-48; New York City Art Center, 1926; Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art, 1916-1966; Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1947; Brooklyn Museum, 1948; New York Public Library, 1940 (solo); California Palace of the Legion of Honor, 1953 (solo); University of Southern California, 1955 (solo); Rhode Island School of Design, 1961 (solo); University of Delaware, 1963; Harco Gallery, 1996 (retrospective); Museum of Modern Art; Whitney Museum of American Art; Boston Museum of Fine Arts; Los Angeles Museum of Art; Library of Congress; San Diego Fine Art Society; San Francisco Museum of Art; Santa Barbara Museum of Art, 1944; Society of Independent Artists, 1917, 1927, 1928, 1936; World’s Fair, New York, 1939; Bibliothéque Nationale, Paris, 1918.

Works Held: Art Institute of Chicago; Boston Museum of Fine Arts; Butler Institute of American Art, Youngstown, Ohio; California Palace of the Legion of Honor; Walter E. Chrysler Collection; Corcoran Gallery of Art; Dallas Museum of Fine Art; Denver Art Museum; Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, Massachusetts; John Herron Art Institute; Library of Congress; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Museum of Modern Art, New York City; Newark Public Library; Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art; New York Public Library; Philadelphia Museum of Art; San Diego Fine Art Society; San Francisco Museum of Art; United States Post Office, Brunswick, New Jersey; Whitney Museum of American Art; Kaiser Friedrich’s Museum, Berlin; Galeria D’ArteModerna, Venice.

Further Reading:
A Show of Color: 100 Years of Painting in the Pike’s Peak Region, Robert L. Shalkop, Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, Colorado Springs, Colorado, 1971.

The Illustrated Biographical Encyclopedia of Artists of the American West, Peggy and Harold Samuels, Doubleday & Company, Inc., Garden City, New York, 1976.

John F. Carlson and Artists of the Broadmoor Academy, David Cook Fine Art, Denver, Colorado, 1999.

Pikes Peak Vision: The Broadmoor Art Academy, 1919-1945
, Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, Colorado Springs, Colorado, 1989.

Who Was Who in American Art 1564-1975: 400 Years of Artists in America
, Vol. 1. Peter Hastings Falk, Georgia Kuchen and Veronica Roessler, eds., Sound View Press, Madison, Connecticut, 1999. 3 Vols.


Biography from Fred R. Kline Gallery, Inc.:
George Biddle was an important 20th-century American painter, drawing master, printmaker and muralist whose major creative activity spanned a fifty-year period from 1914 to 1964.  During his lifetime he was counted as one of the leading artists in the United States.  His influence in the vanguard and later development of the "WPA" and "American Scene" genres during the 1930's and 1940's was of particular importance during this period in American art.

Biddle's portraits, genre, and still lifes were highly regarded and influential into the 1950's as well.  His paintings, drawings and prints are held in many museum collections worldwide, including: Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Gallery, Museum of Modern Art, Whitney Museum of American Art, Boston Museum of Fine Art, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Art Institute Chicago, and Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

During Biddle's career, he received more than 100 one-man exhibitions in the United States, Europe, Mexico, Japan, and India.

ASPECTS OF BIDDLE'S CAREER

WPA
In 1933—drawing on his rich experience in Mexico during 1928-29 when he traveled and painted with Diego Rivera—Biddle suggested to his boyhood friend President Franklin D. Roosevelt (in the form of a detailed written proposal) the idea of a government-supported mural and arts program similar to the one he had witnessed firsthand in Mexico.  Roosevelt saw the merit of the proposal, and soon afterward, with Biddle's guidance, instituted the Public Works of Art Project of the Depression era. Roosevelt credited Biddle as the creator of the arts projects.

MEXICO
In 1940, the Mexican government, at the request of Diego Rivera, invited Biddle to create a mural for the Supreme Court building in Mexico City—a rare honor for a non-Mexican.  Biddle's Mexico-period, in close association with Rivera from 1928 through the 1940's, ranks high in importance among the artist's body of work and holds a unique and notable place in early 20th century American art.

TEXAS
Texas always held a special place in Biddle's heart.  As a young man in Texas, in 1908-09, Biddle worked as a cowboy in an effort to recover from a mental and physical breakdown that he had suffered upon entering Harvard Law School.  He healed himself in Texas, working long and hard days on several cattle ranches around the state. [He was admitted to the Pennsylvania Bar in 1911, whereupon he went off to Paris to begin his career in art!]  He speaks of this experience in his autobiography An American Artist's Story.  He returned to visit Texas many times over the years, but in 1940, toward the end of the Depression, he lived in San Antonio and made a number of notable drawings, watercolors, and paintings.  These works—a treasure of American regional art focused specifically on San Antonio—capture an essence of that distant historic moment, a moment in time caught between the lingering poverty of the Great Depression and the calm before the storm of World War II.

copyright 2005 Fred R. Kline, Fred R. Kline Gallery, Santa Fe, NM

Biography from Charleston Renaissance Gallery:
GEORGE BIDDLE (1885-1973)

George Biddle, well educated, deeply cultured, and widely traveled, led an eclectic and peripatetic life that encompassed a broad array of life experiences. He largely worked in a style of social realism, though his skills were multi-faceted as borne out in works in oil, watercolor, pen and ink, clay, print media, and murals.

Born to a prominent Philadelphia family, Biddle attended Groton Academy, Harvard University, and Harvard Law School. He passed the bar in 1911, but changed course that same year to pursue a career in art, enrolling at the Académie Julien in Paris. He later continued his art education at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. In 1914, he returned to Europe, studied in Munich and Rome, and spent two summers painting in France. In 1917, Biddle enlisted in the army, serving until 1919. After several years abroad, Biddle returned to the United States in 1927, establishing a permanent residence in Croton-on-Hudson, New York. His travel was unabated, however, and included Mexico, Europe, and Africa over the course of his career.

In May and June of 1930, Biddle visited Charleston, South Carolina at the invitation of George and Ira Gershwin. The composers wanted his involvement in designing sets for their opera, Porgy and Bess. Biddle produced a prodigious compilation of images—many in watercolor and pen and ink—that capture the particular rhythm and ambiance of Charleston. Several of these sketches also served as studies for larger paintings. Biddle used a shimmering transparent technique in paintings and drawings, perfecting a uniquely vibrant and stylized approach to line, contour, and form that is a hybrid of modernism and social realism.

Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, Biddle was instrumental in launching government art programs and participated in them himself, completing several murals. It was at the artist’s urging that Franklin Delano Roosevelt (whom Biddle knew from Groton and Harvard) instituted the New Deal art programs, such as the Public Works of Art Project, crediting Biddle as its inspiration.

Biddle was an active teacher and writer. The author of numerous publications, Biddle’s autobiography, An Artist’s Story, was released in 1939, followed by The Yes and No of Contemporary Art in 1957. A frequent exhibitor at many institutions around the country over the course of his career, Biddle’s work was featured in more than one hundred solo exhibitions.

This essay is copyrighted by the Charleston Renaissance Gallery and may not be reproduced or transmitted without written permission from the Hicklin Galleries, LLC.


Biography from The Johnson Collection:
In his 1939 autobiography entitled An American Artist’s Story, George Biddle wrote that art “is a re-creation, a reaction to, a critique of life, expressed subconsciously in a given medium with a certain rhythm.” Over the course of a fifty-year career that spanned continents, media, and aesthetic schools of thought, Biddle created works that gave expressive form to his own experiences and to the changing face of twentieth century life.

Born to a prominent Philadelphia family, Biddle was educated in places of privilege, including Groton, Harvard, and Harvard law school. His family’s social expectations contradicted his own creative instincts, a tension at the root of two youthful emotional breakdowns. By 1911, the artist had discovered his own voice and enrolled at the Académie Julian in Paris. The following year, he furthered his studies at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Throughout his life, Biddle was an inveterate traveler who absorbed lessons while working in Europe, Tahiti, South America, Africa, and Asia.

Living abroad in the early decades of the twentieth century, Biddle developed relationships with a wide swath of artists whose work influenced his own development, including Fred Frieseke, John Singer Sargent, Mary Cassatt, and Jules Pascin. Following service as a United States infantry officer on the French front from 1917-1919, Biddle emerged from the Great War “with a clearly defined orientation and a desperate need to make up for lost time.” For two years, he lived in a Polynesian village before establishing a studio in New York, a decision that did little to dampen his enthusiasm for world travel. In 1928, Biddle accompanied the muralist Diego Rivera on a sketching trip in Mexico, an experience that would inform his own highly successful career as a social realist focused on the contemporary American scene. During the Depression, Biddle drew on Rivera’s example and on his own childhood connection with President Franklin D. Roosevelt to champion the development of the Federal Arts Project of the Works Progress Administration.

In 1930, Biddle traveled to Charleston, South Carolina at the invitation of DuBose Heyward, author of Porgy, and the composer George Gershwin, who was interested in adapting the novel for opera. For two months, the artist sketched genre scenes and figure studies of the people he encountered in the Lowcountry, many of which were later developed into finished studio canvases. Biddle’s illustrations were included in the original 1935 libretto to Porgy and Bess.

Biddle was active as a painter, teacher, and writer throughout his later years. His drawings, prints, paintings, and sculptures have been featured in over one hundred solo exhibitions, and were also represented in important group shows during his lifetime. His work is represented in the collections of such prestigious institutions as the Art Institute of Chicago, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Fine Art, Boston, Museum of Modern Art, and Whitney Museum of Fine Art, among others.

The Johnson Collection, Spartanburg, South Carolina


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George Biddle is also mentioned in these AskART essays:
Fauves/Fauvism

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