February 1999: A Voice of Conscience: The Prints of Jack Levine will be on view at the Brooklyn Museum of Art from April 23 through June 20, 1999. The first museum retrospective of prints by the New York City-based painter and printmaker will consist of sixty-nine works dating from 1942 to 1982. Included are Matisse and U.S. Servicemen (1942), The Great Society (1968), The Feast of Pure Reason (1970), and Lion of Prague (1982).
Levine, whose work spans most of the twentieth century, studied painting in 1928 with Dr. Denman W. Ross, artist, collector, and founder of the art department at Harvard. Dr. Ross, who had worked with Monet at Giverny, greatly influenced Levine’s work by introducing him to the world of the Old Masters. On his own, Levine also developed a strong interest in Socialist Realist painting and German Expressionism.
While employed by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) from 1935 until 1939, Levine found his biting satirical paintings included in an exhibition at The Museum of Modern Art in 1936. In 1939 he had an exhibition at The Downtown Gallery in New York, for which the reviews ranged from “dazzling” to “terrible.”
“I am primarily concerned with the condition of man,” Levine has said. “The satirical direction I have chosen is an indication of my disappointment in man, which is the opposite way of saying that I have high expectations for the human race.” Levine has also referred to himself as a dramatist looking for situations in which to improvise his characters.
After the death of his father in the late 1930s, Levine began painting images evoking his Jewish heritage. Examples of these works include small-scale, beautifully painted figures from the Old Testament, such as King David (1940), King Saul (1948), Maimonides (1952), and Yehudah (1957).
At the same time, Levine continued to explore contemporary political and social issues, in such satirical works as Welcome Home, 1946 (collection of the BMA). This painting, which depicts military men returning to civilian life, marked Levine’s own return as an artist following several years of service during World War II.
Jack Levine turned seriously to printmaking in the 1960s, when he was introduced to Abe Lublin, who was associated with the New York Graphic Society and went on to found his own firm. This acquaintance, and Levine’s work with the printer Emiliano Sorini, who taught him intaglio printmaking, were of seminal importance. Levine took to the process immediately and found in it a “kind of therapy to be had from scraping the copper plate, in monkeying around with scrapers, polishers and burnishes. I work at home, not in the studio.”
It was not unusual for Levine to make a print from an image that he first created in a painting, as was the case with the print The General, which originally appeared as the 1956 painting The Turnkey. As a result, Levine’s earlier fascination with the Old Masters is reflected in such prints as Je Me Souviens de M. Watteau and Hélène Fourment.
A Voice of Conscience: The Prints of Jack Levine is curated by Marilyn Kushner, Curator of Prints and Drawings.
The exhibition is sponsored by the Joseph Alexander Foundation.
Brooklyn Museum Archives. Records of the Department of Public Information. Press releases, 1995 - 2003. 01-06/1999, 005-6.