Flagbearers, c. 1936, oil on canvas, unsigned, 29 ¾ x 35 ½ inches; note: this painting was discovered in a crawlspace in Bibel’s home and was likely hidden away during the McCarthy Era; presented in a newer wood frame
About the Painting
Flagbearers is a prime example of Leon Bibel’s easel painting during the Great Depression. The artist consistently addressed some of the toughest topics of his day from lynchings and poverty to war and the plight of refugees and, in this case, the struggles of Labor. Drawing on influences from the Mexican muralists and Soviet Social Realism, one of Bibel’s protagonists carries a symbolic red flag and another raises their hand in a show of worker solidarity as they appear to breakthrough a purposely ambiguous wooden structure. They strike heroic and triumphant poses which bely the actual state of affairs for many workers during the 1930s. With its simplified figures and exaggerated forms, Bibel’s design and coloration are striking and bear comparison to the best of his serigraphs, many of which are in important institutions including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the British Museum.
About the Artist
Leon Bibel is best known as a progressive and socially conscious painter and printmaker. He was born in Poland and came to the United States with his family, settling in San Francisco, where he studied at the California School of Fine Arts. Before moving to New York in 1936, Bibel assisted Bernard Zakheim on several murals. In New York, Bibel enrolled with the Federal Art Project (FAP) as an easel painter and printmaker. He also taught art at Bronx House and studied and worked at the Harlem Art Center. Bibel's time with the FAP ended in 1941 and by 1942, he stopped working as an artist. To support his family, Bibel worked in New Jersey as a chicken farmer for twenty years. In the 1960s he resumed an artistic practice, including creating complex wood constructions. Bibel exhibited in several dozen museums and institutions, including the Newark Museum, Jersey City Museum, Hunterdon County Art Center, Rutgers State University, New Jersey State Museum, National Academy of Design and the National Jewish Museum, in addition to a variety of FAP exhibitions during the 1930s and early 1940s. Bibels work is in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, the Newark Museum, the Zimmerli Art Museum of Rutgers, and the Amon Carter Museum, among others.