Joseph Hirsch Biography

Joseph Hirsch




Joseph Hirsch was born on April 25, 1910 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He began to study art at age 17. Hirsch studied at the Philadelphia Museum School, with Henry Hensche in Provincetown, Mass., and with George Luks in New York. In addition to formal study, Hirsch traveled extensively, including a five-year stay in France.

He participated in the Works Project Administration in the easel painting division, with occasional work in the mural division, where he painted murals in the Amalgamated Clothing Workers Building and the Municipal Court. During World War II, Joseph Hirsch took part in the war effort, as an artist war correspondent, recording significant battles and events.

He taught at the Chicago Art Institute, the American Art School, University of Utah, and had a significant tenure at the Art Students League in New York. He also won many awards, among them were a fellowship at the American Academy in Rome,  the Walter Lippincott Prize, First Prize at the New York World's Fair (1939), the Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship (1942, 1943), and the Fulbright Fellowship (1949). In 1954 he was elected into the National Academy of Design as an Associate member and became a full Academician in 1958

Early in his career, Hirsch was introduced to the movement of Social Realism through George Luks, who was one of "The Eight". This group of painters, at the beginning of the century, chose to depict ordinary and everyday scenes.  From this movement stemmed the Social Realism genre of the 1920s and 1930s. Particularly during the Great Depression, social consciousness, and commentary were important components of the movement, dictating subject matter. Social commentary was the backbone for the majority of Joseph Hirsch's paintings.

Of his own work, Mr. Hirsch wrote: ''I believe that some day the fabric of art will be threaded with morality, enabling us to distinguish evil from good. Today, this is unthinkable, in the delightful art world where, excepting censorship, anything goes. But anything goes does not accord with the more discriminating ethics of our civilized code which rules out what is socially destructive.''

In ‘American Artist,’ Dianne Cochrane wrote of him: ''He has often used canvas to make effective social statements. Many of his best-known paintings are indictments of society's insensitivities or frightening scenes of corruption. His compassionate treatment of the little man demonstrates a desire to portray the human condition sympathetically.''

During World War II, Mr. Hirsch went to the South Pacific, North Africa and Italy as an artist-correspondent for the Navy, and his paintings and drawings are in the Museum of Military History. He recently protested to a magazine that had used one of his wartime hospital paintings to illustrate an article justifying the use of the atomic bomb. In Major Collections. Hirsch's work is represented in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney in New York; the National Gallery, the Corcoran and the Hirshhorn in Washington; the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, and in many major collections in the United States. He was a founding member and the first treasurer of Artists Equity, an association designed to protect the rights and interests of artists. He was elected to membership in the National Institute of Arts and Letters in 1967, and was also a trustee of the Century Association. 

Joseph Hirsch died in New York, NY on September 21, 1981.