Hugo Gellert (1892-1985) was a distinguished force in the history of modern art. Known for his robust and distinct style as a painter and illustrator, Gellert was critical to America’s earliest mural movement. He is considered one of the most influential political artists of the first half of the 20th Century. Well known for his graphic work of the 1930s-40s and his radical acts combining art and activism, Gellert was a successful illustrator working for such publications as The New York, Masses, The Liberator, and New Masses.
Born in Budapest, Gellert immigrated to New York in 1906 with his family. After studying at Cooper Union and the National Academy of Design, his interest in politics was sparked by the outbreak of WWI and the death of his brother. He began making drawings and illustrations for the radical political journals, and in 1916, he published his first anti-war art in the leftist periodical, The Masses. He subsequently served on the editorial board of The Liberator and helped to found The New Masses. Gellert was a staff artist for The New Yorker from its inception in 1925 through 1946, and his portraits and illustrations populate many of the magazines pages. His last major museum exhibition was in Hungary in 1968 at the National Gallery in Budapest. Throughout his life, Gellert was known for his involvement in Hungarian-American art and activism. In 1927, he was appointed head of the first anti-Fascist organization in America.
Passionately political in content, Gellert’s work displays stream-lined, machine-age imagery and bold, planar forms. Among his most famous works are “Karl Marx’s ‘Capitol’ in Lithographs,” “Comrade Gulliver,” and “Aesop Said So.” In 1939, Gellert helped organize the group, “Artists for Defense,” and later became the Chairman for “Artists for Victory,” an organization that included over 10,000 members. In 1943, at the height of the Second World War, Gellert experimented with the process of silkscreen to create “Century of The Common Man,” a portfolio of 19 prints illustrating two speeches by Vice President Henry A. Wallace. Already acknowledged for his command over lithographic techniques, Gellert chose the relatively new medium of silkscreen, exploring to the fullest its inherent qualities of producing large, flat areas of bold color.
Gellert’s work was the subject of a solo show at Mary Ryan Gallery in 1986. The gallery later exhibited his work in 2012, showing important paintings, many of which were on view for the first time since 1928.
Gellert’s works are in the collections of the British Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and the Wolfsonian Museum, Florida International University, Miami among others. He died in Freehold, New Jersey, at 93 years old.
Mary Ryan Gallery published an illustrated catalog of Gellert’s prints and drawings, with an introduction by Jeff Kisseloff and James Wechsler, in 1986.
Mary Ryan Gallery is the exclusive representative of the Hugo Gellert estate.