George Biddle


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(1885–1973). Painter and printmaker. Also a leader in establishing Depression-era federal art projects. Born in Philadelphia, Biddle graduated from Harvard University in 1908 and received a law degree there three years later. Although admitted to the Pennsylvania bar, he never practiced. Instead, for several years he studied art at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and in Munich and Paris. In Europe he was drawn to the painterly tradition of the seventeenth century, particularly the work of Rubens and Velázquez, and, later, to the impressionists. Following U.S. Army service in World War I, Biddle continued to travel and paint in Europe, in Latin America, and, for two years, in Tahiti. By 1932, however, he had decided to turn to American subjects, and he returned permanently to the United States. In the following year, he wrote to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, earlier a classmate at Groton preparatory school, urging federal support for artists. Spurred by admiration for the contemporary Mexican mural movement, Biddle urged that American painters be given the opportunity to express “in living monuments the social ideals that you are struggling to achieve.”

In the 1930s Biddle was active in the American Artists' Congress and a vigorous proponent of socially engaged art. His most important murals, painted in the mid-1930s at the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C., illustrate the role of law in promoting an exemplary society. Scenes of sweatshop and tenement contrast with the culminating image of an orderly and pleasant middle-class household. In his later years, Biddle created genre scenes, sometimes with a satirical flavor. He also painted many portraits. He died in Croton-on-Hudson, New York, where he had maintained a home since the late 1920s. Biddle published his autobiography, An American Artist's Story, in 1939. Artist at War (1944) recounts his activities while again engaged in military service during World War II. A collection of critical essays, The Yes and No of Contemporary Art, appeared in 1957. Indian Impressions (1960) recounts his reactions to a lengthy 1959 stay in India, while Tahitian Journal (1968) provides autobiographical material related to his sojourn there.

From The Oxford Dictionary of American Art and Artists in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: Art.

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