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New York

Ben Shahn (American, b. Lithuania, 1898-1969)

New York, 1947

  • Tempera on paper mounted on canvas and panel
  • 36 x 48 in. (91.4 x 121.9 cm)
  • The Jewish Museum, New York
  • Purchase: Oscar and Regina Gruss Charitable and Educational Foundation Fund, 1996-23
  • Art © Estate of Ben Shahn/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

Not on view



New York


New York

Ben Shahn’s New York includes a young boy in swimming trunks, a floating fish, a scale, a traditionally dressed Hasidic fish peddler, and the structural skeletons of several apartment buildings. These are all based on two photographs the artist took on New York’s Lower East Side during the 1930s. The collage-like composition suggests elements of the artist’s own past, specifically his experience of New York City.

Shahn was born in Lithuania but immigrated to the United States when he was a young boy. He did not adjust quickly to his new life in Brooklyn, but at the same time, he was amazed by the city’s technology and scale, the buildings, streetlights, and subways. The photographs that served as reference images for this painting were taken on the Lower East Side, which, like the area of Brooklyn where Shahn grew up, was a Jewish immigrant neighborhood. The image of the boy—borrowed from a photo of two children sunbathing—may allude to Shahn’s younger brother, Hymie, who drowned at the age of seventeen near the artist’s home in Truro, on Cape Cod, in 1926.

In 1967, the artist observed: “For imagination is images, traces of experience, the residue of impacts made upon us by all sorts of forces both from outside and inside ourselves. It is such images retained, and the power to re-invoke them, the power to re-group them and out of them to create new images according to our uses and intentions.”


Berger, Maurice, and Joan Rosenbaum, eds. Masterworks of The Jewish Museum. New York: The Jewish Museum; New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2004.