Spring Landscape #5 (Mont Royal, Montreal)" by Gershon Benjamin, 1947, oil on canvas, 29 x 36 inches
Only a short time remains for a special exhibition of the work of American modernist Gershon Benjamin (1899-1985), a Romanian-born, Montreal-educated artist remembered as an Expressionist for his individualistic style and use of color. The exhibition, Gershon Benjamin: Modern Master features more than 60 portraits, still lifes, landscapes and city scenes in oil, watercolor and charcoal—all representing more than seven decades of work.
Benjamin was part of a 1920s New York scene of progressive artists who favored European modernism to the popular American Scene and Regionalist art of the day. His influences included Henri Matisse, Paul Cézanne, Pablo Picasso and Rembrandt as well as his artist friends, including Milton Avery, Mark Rothko and Adolph Gottlieb, among others.
"The Fedora Hat" by Gershon Benjamin, 1945, oil on canvas, 37 x 31 inches. Collection of Robyn and Chuck Citrin.
At a time when many American artists supported by the Great Depression’s Works Progress Administration favored social realism, or the lifelike depictions of everyday conditions of the working class, Benjamin and his friends challenged the idea that art should cater to the masses or carry an explicit message. Rather, Benjamin and his coterie thought art should express an abstract idea and be international and universal. But while his contemporaries went on to fame as leading lights of the Abstract Expressionist art movement associated with the New York School, Benjamin sought his own creative path free of commercial influences.
Drexel’s latest exhibition has been several decades in the making. College of Engineering alumna Joan Facey ’58, who grew up as a neighbor and friend to Benjamin and his wife, was also one of his portrait sitters. Now chair of the Gershon Benjamin Foundation, Facey wanted to make the collection available to the Drexel community, especially to the students, to renew and inspire them as they pursue their education and launch their careers — just as she was rejuvenated by her visits to the Main Building’s picture galley (now known as the A.J. Drexel Picture Gallery) when she attended Drexel in the ’50s.
"Brooklyn Bridge at Dawn" by Gershon Benjamin, ca. 1968, oil on canvas, 40 x 50 inches. The Gershon Benjamin Foundation.
Gershon Benjamin: Modern Master will run through August 7. The Rincliffe Gallery is on the third floor of Main Building at 3141 Chestnut St. The gallery is open and free to the public from 8 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.
To learn more about the connection between Gershon Benjamin and Joan Facey, read Drexel Magazine's "Who Was Gershon Benjamin?"