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Stefan Hirsch


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Painter and draftsman. Known for poetic, detailed realism, he was born in Nuremberg to American parents, grew up in Europe, and enrolled at the University of Zurich in 1917. There he knew the dada painters and writers before he moved to New York in 1919. Dreamily interpreting the ideas of precisionism, Mill Town (Phillips Collection, c. 1924–25) displays the standard features of that approach: an urban and industrial theme, simplified forms, hard edges, smooth surfaces. But with a pale red sun hanging in a brownish (perhaps polluted) sky and a black river sweeping past, the view takes on an otherworldly tone foreign to the central achievements of precisionism. Other paintings more clearly demonstrate interests in surrealism and in naive painting. A fine draftsman, Hirsch produced delicate and animated flowers and other subjects. Sponsored by a federal art project, his mural for the courthouse in Aiken, South Carolina, initiated one of the bitterest controversies of the federal programs. Because of its modernist characteristics, townspeople reviled Justice as Protector and Avenger (1938). Eventually, the work was covered with a velvet drape and shown only upon request. For his trouble, Hirsch was rewarded in 1943 with another commission in yet another small southern town, Boonville, Mississippi. This time he painted a central panel showing pieces of mail wafting through the air above a stack of packages. On either side of this postal conceit, World War II soldiers and their loved ones at home read or write letters. No one protested this imagery. Hirsch taught for nearly two decades before his retirement in 1961 at Bard College in Annandale-on Hudson, New York. He died in New York after a protracted illness.

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