The Arty Semite

Depression-Era Paintings Show Misery and Joy

By Renee Ghert-Zand

‘City Rooftops’ by Louis Ribak. Collection of Steven and Stephanie Wasser.

“The Emigrants” a circa-1930 oil painting by Julius Bloch, is the signature image in a new exhibition at the National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia, “Jewish Artists in America 1925-1945.” “It conveys the experience of immigrants, one that is intimately and deeply tied to this museum,” said Josh Perelman, NMAJH’s chief curator and director of exhibitions and collections. “It is evocative and beautiful, and it tells a deep story.”

The painting by Bloch is one of 21 artworks (18 paintings and three lithograph prints) from the collection of Steven and Stephanie Wasser that tell the un-romanticized story of immigrants and all Americans during what many would argue was the most trying period in the 20th century.

On view at the museum until the end of June are Depression-era works by political artists, working independently or under the auspices of the Works Progress Administration, chronicling the hardships seen on city streets and in rural fields, at work and at home. Among them are Aaron Berkman’s
”Subway,” Louis Ribak’s “City Rooftops” and Saul Steinberg’s “One Summer Night.”

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