1. Portrait of Helene Sardeau (The Artist’s Wife), c. 1936
Fresco, 20 x 16 inches (unframed), 22 x 18 inches (framed), note verso reads: “George Biddle/ Head of his wife/ Detail Justice/ Dept Mural”
The note verso and Rowan family tradition indicate this fresco panel was part of Biddle’s mural “Society Freed Through Justice” at the Department of Justice Building, Washington, DC. The preliminary sketches for the mural bear a strong relationship to his work, although the final “replaced” version of this figure deviates somewhat from the original. Apparently, Biddle was displeased with the way the fresco dried, so he removed the section and repainted the head and shoulders of the figure using a different model. Biddle then gifted the removed portion of the fresco to Rowan, whose image Biddle used in a different section of the mural.
About the Artist
Born in 1885 in Philadelphia, George Biddle was a socially conscious artist who experimented with a variety of media during the WPA Era including murals, painting, and sculpture. He received a B.A. from Harvard in 1908 and LLB in 1911. Biddle then pivoted his studies to art and attended the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and the Académie Julian in Paris. He painted in Giverny and served as an ambulance driver during World War I. In the 1920s, he painted in Tahiti, France, and Mexico, where he met Diego Rivera. Biddle was influential in the creation of New Deal arts programs during the Great Depression. In 1933, he wrote to his former schoolmate and friend, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and urged him to create government programs to aid struggling artists and contribute to the beautification of government buildings. Biddle was among the first to receive a federal mural commission for the Justice Department Building in Washington D.C. Biddle was married to the Belgian-born sculptor Helene Sardeau who often served as inspiration in his works. During World War II, Biddle worked as an artist correspondent for Life magazine and served in various teaching roles during and after the war. Biddle’s work has been exhibited at dozens of institutions across the US, including the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Corcoran Gallery of Art, the National Academy of Design, the Art Institute of Chicago and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Biddle was recently the subject of a solo exhibition at the Woodmere Art Museum. He is listed in Who Was Who in American Art and all other standard references.