|A Gift to Biro-Bidjan:
From Despair to New Hope
William Jacobs (1897-1973)
from the portfolio A Gift
to Biro-Bidjan, 1937
|A Chicago native, William
Jacobs studied at the Art Institute of Chicago and at Hull House. His teachers
were Herman Sachs and Enella Benedict. During the early 1930s, Jacobs painted
in Dayton, Ohio, and Chicago. His works were exhibited at the Art Institute
of Chicago, the Chicago Woman’s Aid and the Jewish Women’s Art Club. He
was awarded the Artists’ Guild prize in design from the Art Institute of
Chicago. As one of the WPA artists during the Depression, he participated
in the painting of murals in the corridors of Chicago’s Spaulding High
In the book Art of Today: Chicago, 1933 (written by J.Z. Jacobson and published by L.M. Stein), Jacobs reveals how he was influenced by Expressionism, his interest in the typical Depression-era industrial scenes and his cosmopolitan inclination:
Generally I consider my art a purely personal expression; occasionally I don’t. I consider it, also, a contribution to society. … I consider my work an expression of the age. I am painting industrial subjects and find them very interesting. … I believe that art should be Universal in spirit, and therefore I do not consider my work an expression of the spirit of any national, racial, religious, political, social or economic group, body, background or attitude.
The satiric nature of Persecution is analogous to the militaristic, brutal graphics of the German expressionist George Grosz (1893-1959) who supported Communism after the November Revolution but retreated later because of of Stalin’s atrocities. Jacobs uses the woodcut medium to create a contrast between the wide white spaces in the pastoral landscape and the dark mass in the oppressed crowd. The soldiers and the refugees march in one direction, except one figure on the left who looks up and raises a fist in rebellion. The mother and child in the center of the composition resemble the introverted mother-child images of German expressionist artist Kathe Kollwitz (1867-1945).
Faithful to his statement
about the “universal spirit,” Jacobs does not disclose the ethnic identity
of the sufferers or their oppressors in Persecution. Including this image
in A Gift to Biro-Bidjan, however, links the persecution with the need
for a Jewish homeland.
|Kathe Kollwitz (German,
Death with Child in Lap, 1921,
Woodcut, 9 3/8 x 11 1/4.