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Louis Saphier (American 1875/7 – 1954)

The Candidate, 1933, oil on canvas, 36 x 21 inches, signed and dated lower right; ex collection Beacon Hill Fine Arts, New York (label verso)


About the Painting

The Candidate shows Norman Thomas campaigning at the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) in New York City. Thomas was the six-time socialist party candidate for the presidency of the United States and the HIAS was founded as a non-profit organization devoted to assisting Jewish people fleeing pogroms and other persecution in eastern Europe. Presumably, the scene comes from the 1932 election which ushered in Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal programs which would have a dramatic and positive impact on the artistic life of the country. For some, however, the progressive politics of the Democrat Party did not go far enough. To Thomas and the Socialist Party of America, the country was fundamentally broken and needed to be restructured. Despite the abundance and productivity of the nation’s farms and industry, millions were unemployed, unhoused and starving. Thomas observed, “It remained for us to invent bread-lines knee-deep in wheat.” Will Rogers, the popular satirist, echoed this sentiment, “We got more wheat, more corn, more food, more money in banks, more everything in the world than any other nation that ever lived ever had, yet we are starving to death. We are the first nation in history to go to the poorhouse in an automobile.” Both, of course, were right that the United States suffered not from want, but from overabundance. And yet, the economy still ground to a halt, creating the unfortunate conditions and subject matter that so many artists of the 1930s and 1940s explored with such passion and determination.

About the Artist

Louis Saphier was a New York-based artist. He was born in Amsterdam and immigrated to the United States in 1889. Saphier’s art education began in the public schools followed by training at the National Academy of Art. He worked as a professional artist who supplemented his income as a painting restorer. During the 1930s, he exhibited at the Society of Independent Artists, the Salons of America and other venues in the New York area. Saphier made national news in 1932 when his was work was featured in a syndicated column about an open-air art exhibition in Washington Square organized by an artist’s relief committee during the depths of the Great Depression. Dozens of artists hung their paintings on every imaginable vertical surface from fences to building walls around the square and sold their works over the course of nine days. The paper reported that Saphier applauded the show because he had only sold three paintings during the previous six months but was able to sell 19 paintings at the Washington Square show in only three days with the highest-priced sale at $95. In 1937, Saphier’s highly realistic depiction of a tulip garden set against the background of New York skyscrapers was voted the best entry in a commercial painting competition. Saphier is listed in Who was Who in American Art and Mallet’s Index of Artists (1948 Supplement).


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