Tuesday, November 09, 2010

10/11 Academic Decathlon The Great Depression Art Selection #3 - Tenement, Mural Study

Tenement (mural study, Depart of Justice Building, Washington, D. C.), 1935, George Biddle, tempera on fiberboard, 40 1/2 x 31 1/2 in. (102.9 x 80.0 cm.), Smithsonian American Art Museum

George Biddle (1885-1973) was born into a wealthy family who expected him to become highly educated and establish a law career. He got a law degree, but traveled to Paris (the art capital of the world at that time) and enrolled in a famous art school, the Academie Julian. After serving in WWI, Biddle began his art career. On a trip to Mexico in 1928, he met Diego Rivera. They proved to be valuable networking friends, each recommending the other for work in each other's countries. Franklind D. Roosevelt was a former classmate of Biddle. George wrote him a letter, and was able to get his ear about painting murals in the Department of Justice. He got the commission and dedicated the rest of his life to public art. In the first mural of a five-panel series Biddle did for the federal government, he contrasted just and unjust societies. The final panel, Tenement, depicted the private lives of poor Americans. This art thrust the struggles of America's poor right in the face of the government.

Tenement is a single wall that's divided into three areas. His cut-away view of the inside of the apartment building shows immigrants and poor families going about their daily lives. The left section is a vertical section showing the outside of the building with bars on the windows and laundry hanging to dry. Utility poles lean left and right suggesting disorder in this urban environment. An old woman is in the foreground of this section and holds an axe and some firewood. This figure and it's placement tie into the figures on the right side of the composition that are inside the building. He compositionally connects both inside and outside with these figures. The people inside are working, playing or taking care of their family, but all have dull, unemotional expressions. It's as though they are just going through the motions of daily life.

The crowding, barred windows, and forlorn expressions suggest their homes are just lonely prisons for them. They are tired but enslaved to the poverty they endure day to day. By placing this mural in the Department of Justice, Biddle hopes to show the people that are making decisions some of the people they affect. "He underscores this point by including two quotes in the mural. At the bottom of the right-hand field, Biddle paints a plaque reading: “brandeis: if we would guide by the light of reason we must let our minds be bold”. The quote is from Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis (1856–1941). It joins another quote that appears at the beginning of the five-panel series, “The life of the law has not been logic; it has been experience,” attributed to Oliver Wendell Holmes (1841–1935), who had just retired from the Supreme Court in 1932." (Quote from the DemiDec Art Resource Guide - thanks DemiDec for what you do for Academic Decathlon!!)

The first quote is imploring the viewer not to turn away from the hard images of poverty. And the second quote grounds in the subject matter that Biddle has chosen. He is challenging the notion of just law and visually states that it is not enough to have the law of Justice. Justice must also mean helping all by improving the lives of people in their society. Pretty in your face, huh? And all under the wing of a public art vehicle. He radically changed the course of Depression-era art.

George Biddle at work on his mural Society Freed through Justice in the U.S. Department of Justice Building., Washington, D.C., 1936

2 comments:

coach outlet said...

wow,the painter is so strong!praise!

Gucci Outlet said...

Thank you for you generosity! At this forum, you share us so important message.ummm...thank you again.