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Art for the Millions: Prints from the 1920s, ’30s, and ’40s


Art for the Millions: American Culture and Politics in the 1930s is a must-see exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art that explores how artists reflected the social and political changes of the time in their work. We are pleased to share with you a selection of prints by exhibited artists Hugo Gellert and Louis Lozowick, whose estates the gallery represents. Included in this selection are works by James Allen and Norman Lewis, also on view at the Met, and contemporaries Peggy Bacon and Eli Jacobi. From etching and drypoint to lithography and silkscreen, these works demonstrate the remarkable breadth of technique printmakers used to explore the urbanization, socio-political discourse, and industrialism of the time.

Capturing the Rise of the Modern City

Louis Lozowick (b. 1892, Kyiv Oblast, Ukraine – d. 1973, South Orange, NJ) was a precisionist artist initially inspired by the striking scale and  geometries of skyscrapers, cable-stayed bridges, and other contemporary feats of engineering. But as the Depression and labor struggles deepened in the 1930s, Lozowick’s focus shifted away from the geometries and grandeur of these architectural marvels toward the workers behind them. Depicting two workers dismantling the Sixth Avenue “el” during the construction of the subway, Guts of Manhattan (1939) demonstrates this shift in Lozowick’s œuvre.


As Lozowick became increasingly concerned with the labor behind America’s rising cities, artist Eli Jacobi (b. 1898, Kharkov, Ukraine – d. 1984, New York, NY) focused on everyday urban life. In 1935, under the auspices of the Works Progress Administration (WPA), a New Deal agency that funded the arts, Jacobi began documenting life on the Bowery, an impoverished New York City neighborhood infamous for its extreme poverty and dereliction. In The Busy Bee (1940) (above), the artist depicts neighborhood locals dining at The Busy Bee, a bustling former eatery on the Lower East Side. 

Norman Lewis

Jazz, 1943-1944


Image Dimensions: 14 3/8 x 11 1/4 inches (36.5 x 28.6 cm)

Paper Dimensions: 20 x 13 inches (50.8 x 33 cm)

Edition size unknown, rare


Though best known for his abstract, midcentury work, Norman Lewis (b. 1909, New York, NY – d. 1979, New York, NY) used representational strategies throughout the 1930s and ’40s to capture Black urban life. Jazz (1943-44) (left) is a rare example of this figurative period in Lewis’s career; a vignette into New York’s Black nightlife, this print pictures four figures swaying to the preeminent musical genre of the time: jazz.

Creating Art for the Masses


Artists-activists such as Hugo Gellert (b. 1892, Budapest, Hungary – d. 1985, Freehold Township, NJ) illustrated and disseminated the core tenets of rising socio-political ideologies such as Communism and Anti-Fascism. Gellert’s portfolio of 19 handmade silkscreens, Century of the Common Man (1943), illustrates a fiery 1943 speech delivered by Vice President Henry Wallace, in which he called for an egalitarian future, free of Fascism — a century of the common man. Pictured above, Learning to Think and Work Together, one of the 19 original silkscreens, is among the first American works of art to represent people of different races collaborating and standing together as equals.

Gellert’s illustrations were first published in 1916 in The Masses, the radical Greenwich Village monthly publication founded by John Reed. Gellert made several drawings for covers and the pages of The Masses before it shut down in 1917. Nine years later, he helped found The New Masses, co-editing alongside John Sloan; Gellert’s illustration was the first cover for the new publication. In his cover for the February 1931 issue of The New Masses (right), the artist extends a valentine to Congressman Hamilton Fish III: a dead fish wrapped in a 1931 New York Times article titled “Fish Urges Outlawing Communist Party.” Just above the fish, Gellert elaborates his play on words by rendering a bottle of poison with a skull-and-bones portrait of the congressman.

Centering the Worker


A staunch advocate of workers’ rights, Gellert expanded on the increasingly worker-focused images of the time with Karl Marx Capital in Pictures, a portfolio of 60 lithographs that use the medium to provide an understanding of the fundamentals of Marxism. With a striking graphic sensibility and an avant-garde, futuristic style, Machinery and Large-Scale Industry 48 pictures a robot raising a worker’s arms. The print explores the fraught relationship between the factory, worker, and machine.


James Allen (b. 1894, Louisiana, MO – d. 1964, Larchmont, NY) often focused on the heroism of the American worker. In Teeming Ingots (1935), Allen pictures a pair of foundry workers teeming, or pouring molten metal into ingot molds. Through sharp, incisive lines that radiate from the furnace toward the workers, Allen captures the extreme heat and blinding light of the foundry; in turn, highlighting the workers’ immense fortitude. Taking a more satirical approach, Peggy Bacon (b. 1895, Ridgefield, CT – d. 1987, Kennebunk, ME) focuses on the worker in Help! (F. 72) (1927), a drypoint print of a busy kitchen scene. Picturing all three workers in movement, Bacon emphasizes the physicality of their labor in this dynamic composition.