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Joseph Hirsch

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Joseph Hirsch
American, (1910–1981)
Biography from The Columbus Museum-Georgia:

Joseph Hirsch began his serious art studies at 17 when he was awarded a four-year scholarship to the Pennsylvania Museum School of Industrial Art by the city of Philadelphia. This was followed by a period of study with George Luks in New York and later with Henry Hensche in Provincetown. In 1934, when Joseph Hirsch was only 23, he won the coveted Walter Lippincott Award at the Annual Exhibition of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts for the “best figure painting in oil by an American citizen.” Hirsch followed this award with the prestigious Woolley Fellowship that provided for a year of study in Paris.

At the 1939 New York World’s Fair, by public ballot, the Philadelphia native was awarded first choice for the best painting in the Exhibition of Contemporary American Art. In 1949, he also received a Fulbright Fellowship, which allowed him to go back to Paris. There he met or interacted with fellow Americans Paul Strand, Robert Gwathmey, and Joseph Floch.

Hirsch’s murals decorated several Philadelphia public buildings. They depicted “Football,” “Early Unionism,” and “Adoption.” His works are included in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Whitney Museum, Corcoran Gallery and others.

As a social realist and humanist, Hirsch frequently portrayed heroic images of ordinary people doing everyday tasks. For Hirsch, all paintings were a celebration of life and everything within the realm of living circumstance was a font of inspiration of almost equal measure.(1) He noted in a 1970 interview, “I usually know where they come from when I think about it. I don't care where they come from…On one of the streetcars in Philadelphia I was coming home late at night and saw one tired passenger whose hand was draped over the front seat…I mention these merely because I happen to remember these things. I've never painted anything that I've seen that I can remember. I've seen things, which have led to paintings.”(2)

Despite the fact that Hirsch refused to abandon representational painting in an era that embraced abstract painting more readily, he was admired widely for his work. In a 1976 exhibition catalogue at Kennedy Galleries, the author defended this stance by stating, “These (paintings) are powerful achievements of a powerful artist who has the courage to go his own way.”(3) The artist’s predilection for working with images of the world he inhabits can be summed up with this quote: “People bring so much to pictures. And I'm very dependent upon what people bring. They bring up stuff that I would never have -- there's so much there that a painter or writer never dreams of that is there. “(4)

1. Gloria-Gilda Deák, Kennedy Galleries Profiles of American Artists (New York: Kennedy Galleries, second edition, 1984)120.
2. Archives of American Art, Interview with Paul Cumming and Joseph Hirsch, New York City, November 13, 1970. Tape 2, unpublished.
3. James Thomas Flexner, Joseph Hirsch, Recent Paintings (New York: Kennedy Galleries, 1976), unpaginated.
4. Hirsch interview.

Submitted by the staff of the Columbus Museum, Georgia

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