William Gropper

American (1897–1977)

About the artist:

William Gropper was a remarkably versatile artist, skilled in a variety of media and disciplines including cartooning, painting and lithography. Throughout his life, he remained committed to using art as a vehicle to protest social and political injustice. Gropper’s subjects, which range from political figures to dispossessed farm workers, were rendered in the blunt and graphic terms associated with social realism. Like many social realist artists of the 1930’s, Gropper became increasingly involved in the liberal and political causes of the time. He had begun to paint privately in 1921, and continued to work in oil throughout the 1930’s. The surfaces of his paintings, like the subjects he portrayed, are coarse and unrefined. Line is used to exaggerate gesture, and bold thick applications of color create striking spatial relationships. As A muralist, Gropper completed several commissions, including the United States Post Office in Freeport, Long Island (1938) and the Northwestern Postal Station in Detroit (1941). During Joseph McCarthy’s anti-communist campaign of the 1950’s, Gropper was asked to testify before the United States Senate. Despite the resulting adversity, he experienced a renewd popularity during the 1960’s. Before his death in 1977 he had gained recognition with his election to the prestigious National Institute of Arts and Letters in 1968. William Gropper, the son of Harry and Jenny Gropper, was born in New York City on 3rd December 1897. His father was a Jewish immigrant, and despite the fact that he had a university degree and spoke eight languages, was forced to accept manual work and the family lived in poverty in New York's Lower East Side. According to Joseph Anthony Gahn, the author of The America of William Gropper, Radical Cartoonist (1966), his father's situation had a major influence on the development of Gropper's political views. He was further radicalized by the death of his aunt in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, a disaster which resulted from locked doors in a New York sweatshop. In 1912 Gropper began studying under Robert Henri and George Bellows at the Ferrer School in Harlem. The school had been founded by a group of anarchists that included Alexander Berkman and Emma Goldman. Guest lecturers included writers and political activists such as Margaret Sanger, Jack London, and Upton Sinclair. In 1917 joined the staff of the New York Tribune and over the next few years produced drawings for its Sunday edition. However, as a socialist, he mixed with radical cartoonists such as Alice Beach Winter, Cornelia Barns, Rockwell Kent, Art Young, Boardman Robinson, Robert Minor, Lydia Gibson, K. R. Chamberlain, George Bellows and Maurice Becker, who worked for the left-wing magazine, The Masses. Gropper believed that the First World War had been caused by the imperialist competitive system. After the USA declared war on the Central Powers in 1917, the The Masses magazine came under government pressure to change its policy. When it refused to do this, the journal lost its mailing privileges. Gropper now joined forces with its former workers, including Max Eastman, Floyd Dell, Crystal Eastman, Art Young, Robert Minor, Stuart Davis, Hugo Gellert, Maurice Becker, Lydia Gibson, Cornelia Barns and Louis Untermeyer to form the Liberator. In 1922 the journal was taken over by Robert Minor and the American Communist Party and in 1924 was renamed as The Workers' Monthly. Many of the people who contributed to the original Liberator, including Gropper, were unhappy with this development and in 1926, they started their own journal, the New Masses. Gropper also provided cartoons for The Revolutionary Age, a revolutionary socialist weekly edited by Louis C. Fraina and John Reed. Other drawings appeared in The Rebel Worker, a magazine of the Industrial Workers of the World. In 1921 he left the New York Tribune and became a freelance artist. It has been argued by one critic the "quiet, stocky William Gropper, a punch-packing cartoonist, is a still better painter. He paints as he draws, quickly and simply, without benefit of model, in reds, blues, yellows, whites." After the failure of his relationship with Gladys Oaks he married Sophie Frankle in 1924. According to Time Magazine: "The two of them built their own nine-room stone house ("bourgeois as hell")" at Croton-on-Hudson. In 1925 he joined the New York World. Two years later he toured the Soviet Union with Sinclair Lewis and Theodore Dreiser. Gropper was a great friend of John Reed, who died of typhus while in Moscow. In 1929 he joined with Hugo Gellert, Jacob Burck, Anton Refregier and Louis Lozowick, to establish the first John Reed Club. The group held classes and exhibitions in New York City. Later, these clubs were formed all over the country. In 1956 there was a major exhibition of his work at the Piccadilly Gallery in London. This was followed by the 1957 La Galerie del Frente Nacional des Artes exhibition in Mexico City. His last major work was the production of stained glass windows for Temple Har Zion, River Forest, Illinois. William Gropper died from a myocardial infarction at Manhasset on 6th January 1977.

William Gropper

American (1897–1977)

(71 works)

About the artist:

William Gropper was a remarkably versatile artist, skilled in a variety of media and disciplines including cartooning, painting and lithography. Throughout his life, he remained committed to using art as a vehicle to protest social and political

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