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 William Wolfson  (1894 - 1966)

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Lived/Active: Pennsylvania      Known for: modernist figure, genre

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Ad Code: 4
William Wolfson
from Auction House Records.
The Playground
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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
William Wolfson (1894-1966)

He was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1894, 6 years after his father, Samuel, immigrated to the United States from Russia.  Wolfson had 2 sisters and 1 brother.  His father initially worked as a tailor but, by 1910, was apparently running a successful restaurant.  According to the 1910 census Samuel Wolfson’s occupation was “restaurant,” and 3 adult servants were living with the Wolfson family whose occupation was also listed as “restaurant.”

Wolfson studied at the Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh.  This was followed by study at the National Academy of Design and the Art Students League (under Robert Henri) in New York City, and with Arthur Watson Sparks, George Willoughby Maynard, and Frank Vincent DuMond.

In 1922 Wolfson married and a son, David, was born to Wolfson and his wife, Ela, in 1928 who were living in the Bronx.  By 1935 they had moved to Forest Hills in Queens, New York and Wolfson’s occupation was listed as “commercial artist.”

Wolfson’s work is associated with the Ashcan School of social realism, and he was especially notable as a print maker. “Wolfson taught students from the upper class at Carnegie Tech, now Carnegie Mellon University.  He created art that portrayed the struggles of the city blue collar neighborhoods during the 1920s.  A pencil drawing of two workers returning home from a hard day [of] labor shows reveals the toll that work takes on the men while still imbuing them with a sense of dignity.”[2] This description of a Wolfson pencil drawing could equally be applied to Six A.M. where Wolfson respectfully and empathically portrays the lonely work of a black man swabbing floors early in the morning.

Exhibits in which Wolfson’s work was shown include 50 Prints of the Year in 1928-29 and 1931, Whitney Museum of American Art, and Salons of America.  Wolfson’s work is in the collections of Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Cleveland Museum of Art, New York Public Library, and the Rochester Institute of Technology.  He contributed to Readers Digest and Coronet magazines and authored/illustrated “Going Places” in 1940.

After WWII Wolfson moved to Los Angeles and taught at the Otis Art Institute.  He died in Los Angeles, California at the age of 72 in 1966.

(1)    Robert Strossi, Brier Hill Gallery, West Roxbury, MA.
(3)    Rochester Institute of Technology Libraries.

Information provided by Steven Wasser, American/Jewish Art

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