Ben Shahn's Sunday Paintings: Explanations for his shift from social realism to personal realism
Ellis, James Walter
Master of Arts
Ben Shahn's 1940 solo exhibition of his so-called "Sunday Paintings" at the Julien Levy Gallery in New York manifested a transformation that had occurred in his art during the 1930s. Both the formal language and the subject matter of his art had changed. I explore in depth the wide variety of contextual influences (political, professional, and personal) that informed this metamorphosis. Specifically addressed is the federal government's political realignment at the end of the New Deal, a paradigm shift in the emphasis of art criticism and artistic practice, and the influence of a "photographic-aesthetic" on Shahn's paintings. In spite of the easy answers offered by critics, historians, and the artist himself, the actual reason for Shahn's new visual language was a complex set of internal and exterior factors, not always directly related, but, nevertheless, all contributors to a condition in which Shahn felt compelled to change his course.
Biographies; Art history