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William Gropper

(American, 1897-1977)

Cartoonist and social realist painter who studied with Robert Henri and George Bellows. Often compared with Honoré Daumier, Gropper was a satirical cartoonist for the New York Tribune. He contributed to Vanity Fair, as well as to more radical publications such as the Masses and the Liberator, and to two Communist publications—Freiheit and the Daily Worker.

Joan Stahl American Artists in Photographic Portraits from the Peter A. Juley & Son Collection (Washington, D.C. and Mineola, New York: National Museum of American Art and Dover Publications, Inc., 1995)

William Gropper’s parents were Jewish immigrants who worked in the sweatshops of New York City’s garment district. Their dignity in the face of hardship influenced their oldest son, who wrote that “I’m from the old school, defending the underdog.” (Klaidman, “William Gropper, 79, Painter and Radical Cartoonist Dies,” The Washington Post, January 9, 1977). As a teenager Gropper attended an experimental socialist school and took art courses with Robert Henri and George Bellows. Their respect for working people inspired Gropper to express his radical politics in cartoons. After winning several prizes for his drawings he took a job with the New York Tribune, but his bosses discovered his contributions to left-wing magazines and fired him. In 1937, Gropper had his first show and the New Yorker magazine described him as “one of the most accomplished, as well as one of the most significant artists of our generation.” During the “Red scare” of the postwar years, conservatives grew suspicious of his images lambasting the rich and powerful. Gropper was asked to appear before the McCarthy Senate permanent investigations subcommittee, where he took the Fifth Amendment. He was branded a Communist and saw several of his gallery shows cancelled. This experience did nothing to stop the artist from making satirical images about war, prejudice, greed, and exploitation into his late seventies. (Steinberg, intro. to Sorini, William Gropper Etchings, 1998)

William Gropper