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 Joseph Solman  (1909 - 2008)

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Lived/Active: New York / Russian Federation      Known for: mod figure-genre, portrait, streetscape paintings

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Joseph Solman
from Auction House Records.
Elaine
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
These Notes from AskART represent the beginning of a possible future biography for this artist. Please click here if you wish to help in its development:
An expressionist portrait painter, Joseph Solman was a member of the avant-garde group called The Ten, active from 1932 to 1940. One of his portrait subjects was George Stephanopoulos, adviser to President Clinton, and a special exhibition of Solman's work was held in Washington D.C. at the Brown Gallery in the winter of 1998.

Biography from Mercury Gallery:
Brought to America from Russia as a child in 1912, Joseph Solman was a prodigious draftsman and knew, in his earliest teens, that he would be an artist. He went straight from high school to the National Academy of Design, though he says he learned more by sketching in the subway on the way back from school late at night: people “pose perfectly when they’re asleep.”

In 1929, Solman saw the inaugural show at the Museum of Modern Art featuring Seurat, Gauguin, Van Gogh, and Cezanne. It changed his life – and his art.

In 1934, Solman had his first one-man show, much influenced by the French modern Georges Rouault. One critic was impressed by “the mystery that lurks in deserted streets in the late twilight.” Another noted that Solman’s color had “an astonishingly rich quality that burns outward beneath the surface.”

Joseph Solman was, with Mark Rothko, the unofficial co-leader of The Ten, a group of expressionist painters who exhibited as the “Whitney Dissenters” at the Mercury Galleries in New York in 1938. A champion of modernism, Solman was elected an editor of Art Front Magazine when its other editors, art historian Meyer Shapiro and critic Harold Rosenberg, were still partial to Social Realism.

But Solman never believed in abstraction for abstraction’s sake. “I have long discovered for myself,” Solman has said, “that what we call the subject yields more pattern, more poetry, more drama, greater abstract design and tension than any shapes we may invent.”
In writing about a purchase of a typical 1930s Solman street scene for the Wichita Museum, director Howard Wooden put it this way: “Solman has produced the equivalent of an abstract expressionist painting a full decade before the abstract expressionist movement came to dominate the American art scene, but without abandoning identifiable forms.”

The subject of three books and included in many more, Solman has focused on themes – from streets to studio to portraiture, back to the streets. All have been hailed. He was a “painter’s painter” (Jacob Kainen, 1937); his street scenes “forceful” (the New York Times, 1940); his interiors were “poetic paintings…forcing the spectator to discover strange beauties in unpromising places” (another Times reviewer, in 1950, dubbed Solman “an intimist”); his first portrait show (1954) was “memorable” and Solman “among the most thoughtful and poetic of American painters” (Art News).

In 1964, The Times, discussing his well-known subway gouaches (done while commuting to his some-time job as a racetrack pari-mutuel clerk), called him a “Pari-Mutuel Picasso.” In 1985, on the occasion of a 50-year retrospective, The Washington Post wrote: “It appears to have dawned, at last, on many collectors that this is art that has already stood the acid test of time.”

Joseph Solman died on April 16, 2008 at the age of 99.

Biography from Apple Ridge Fine Arts:
Still active in his nineties, Joseph Solman is a pivotal figure in the development of 20th century American art.  Emigrating to the United States from Russia at the age of three, he studied drawing under Ivan Olinsky at the National Academy of Design in the late Twenties.  Solman was instrumental in the founding of "The Ten," a progressive group of artists whose members also included Adolph Gottlieb, Mark Rothko, Louis Harris and Ilya Bolotowsky.

From 1936 to 1941, he was active in the easel division of the WPA Federal Art Project. In 1949, he was honored with a retrospective exhibition at the Phillips Memorial Gallery in Washington, D.C. and received the 1961 award in painting from the National Institute of Arts and Letters.  His works are included in more than two dozen major museum collections throughout the world.

Always an innovator, Solman did work that merges Realism with Abstract Expressionism.  His portraits and figure studies are characterized by bold outlines, flat backgrounds, a fauvist palette and a gift for psychological perception.

In his introduction to the 1995 publication Joseph Solman (NY: Da Capo Press), Theodore F. Wolff described Solman’s portraits as "startlingly direct ‘speaking likenesses’ of real human beings in richly-hued canvases that exist as provocatively designed modern works of art."  His studio interiors employ light "principally [as] a means of forcing the spectator to discover strange beauties in unpromising places," wrote Stuart Preston in the same monograph, adding that "there is also a note of strangeness in the absence of all figures when everything speaks of human presence."

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