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Levine, Jack


LEVINE, JACK (1915– ), U.S. painter and printmaker. Born on Boston's South End, Levine was the youngest of Lithuanian immigrants Mary and Samuel Levine's eight children. A poor shoemaker and Hebrew scholar, the elder Levine enrolled his son in children's art classes at a Jewish Community Center, and later at a settlement house in Roxbury. There Levine met Harold Zimmerman, who became his first mentor, and Hyman *Bloom, who also went on to become a painter of Jewish subjects. At 14, Levine became acquainted with Denman Waldo Ross, an art professor at Harvard University. Ross provided financial assistance for Zimmerman, Levine, and Bloom, and arranged Levine's first public exhibition, a small showing of his drawings at Harvard's Fogg Art Museum in 1932 when Levine was only 17.

Levine's unique, expressionistic style complemented his satirical eye, which recorded social and political injustices on canvas and on paper. Among his best-known work in this genre is The Feast of Pure Reason (1937, Museum of Modern Art, New York), a painting completed while Levine was employed by the Works Progress Administration's Federal Art Project. Levine's didactic approach and sharp commentaries rendered with a vigorous brushstroke include subjects ranging from the McCarthy hearings of the 1950s, the desegregation of the South, and Mayor Daley at the 1968 Chicago Convention.

Beginning in 1942, a three-and-a-half-year stint in the army interrupted Levine's work. A year after his 1945 move to New York, Levine married the Ukrainian-born artist Ruth *Gikow. During his time in the service, Levine's reputation was sealed when in 1943 the Metropolitan Museum of Art purchased String Quartette (1936–37), a boldly colored tempera and oil image of four musicians.

Although as a child Levine created a chalk drawing titled Jewish Cantors in the Synagogue (1930, Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University), he first explored Jewish subjects in earnest, specifically biblical subjects, in 1941 when he painted Planning Solomon's Temple (Israel Museum, Jerusalem), a small, ten- by eight-inch homage to his recently deceased father. Hebrew labels identifying the expressionistically executed, robed figures of Solomon and Hiram hover above the pair's heads. Such finely rendered Hebrew letters soon became a staple of Levine's biblical paintings and prints, which number in the hundreds. Levine aimed, to use his words, "to develop some kind of iconography about my Jewish identity." His work has been exhibited at numerous venues, including his first retrospective exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston (1952–53).


F. Getlein, Jack Levine (1966); K. Prescott, Jack Levine: Retrospective Exhibition, Paintings, Drawings, Graphics (1978); K. Prescott and E. Stina-Prescott, The Complete Graphic Work of Jack Levine (1984); J. Levine, Jack Levine (1989).

[Samantha Baskind (2nd ed.)]

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