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collections > permanent collections > drawings >BEN SHAHN
Ben Shahn
(American, b. Lithuania, 1898-1969)
Disturbed Man, 1960
Pen and ink wash on paper, 15” x 11 1/2”
Gift of Gail Binney-Stiles (96.139)

Ben Shahn was deeply invested in art as social protest and a means of exploring the human condition.  In Disturbed Man, expressive eyes call attention to the subject’s psychological state; combined with the contorted hand gesture, Shahn’s drawing tells a story of intense internal struggle.  At the same time, Disturbed Man’s rough-edged, blocky quality conveys a sense of strength and endurance.  Seemingly hewn from granite, Shahn’s figures weather severe trials, and are monuments to the human spirit.

Shahn was born in Lithuania and immigrated with his family to the United States in 1906.  Raised in New York City, he became an apprentice lithographer and attended courses at the National Academy of Design and the Art Students League of New York.  He won early recognition for his paintings on the Sacco and Vanzetti trial, and during the 1930s he became a leading figure in Social Realist art.  An acknowledged American master by the 1950s, Shahn received several honorary degrees and other awards, and in 1956-1957, he served as a Charles Eliot Norton Professor at Harvard University.  His series of Norton lectures was afterwards published as The Shape of Content.