Ben Benn


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Painter. An independent modernist, he devoted his long career mostly to colorful, painterly still lifes, landscapes, cityscapes, and portraits. Born Benjamin Rosenberg in Kamenetz Podolski, Russia (now Ukraine), he moved at the age of nine with his family to New York and never afterward strayed far from the city. Between 1904 and 1908 he studied at the National Academy of Design. Within the next few years, he experimented with cubism but also developed a brightly decorative style related to German expressionism, as in Mother and Child (Whitney Museum, 1915). In this depiction of figures in traditional Eastern European garb on a city street, space is compressed to emphasize the composition's decorative patterning, anchored in picturesque clothing. Around the same time, he also tried his hand at the nonobjective color abstraction popular among younger modernists in the 1910s. His stature among these up-and-coming artists was confirmed by his inclusion in the 1916 Forum Exhibition, which showcased the best of them. By the 1920s, the example of Matisse had come to predominate in his approach, and the rest of Benn's career emphasized pleasurable visual experience. His freely brushed canvases often feature adroitly applied black lines to define contours of objects within lyrical chromatic harmonies. In the 1930s particularly, he sometimes depicted urban scenes. For a time after World War II, he responded to the prevailing enthusiasm for abstract expressionism by again experimenting with forms of nonrepresentational painting.

Subjects: Art.

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