American, born Lithuania,
Italian Landscape II: Europa
North America, American, New York
22 1/2 in. x 30 5/8 in. (57.15 cm x 77.79 cm)
Medium and Support:
Tempera on academy board
Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, Montgomery, Alabama, The Blount Collection
© Estate of Ben Shahn / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
During the Depression, Shahn was employed by the government, creating murals for public buildings, and in 1942 he joined the Graphic Arts Division of the Office of War Information. Shahn was inspired to create this composition by a photograph he saw there. The rubble of Italy’s heritage, in the form of classical architecture, litters the foreground, and a woman struggles to make her way through the ruins carrying her few possessions and her child. Although the setting is clearly Italy, the woman is anonymous—any victim of any war, any time; her laborious climb is expressed through her posture and given added poignancy by the innocence of her sleeping child. At the apex of the composition stands a ruined hotel, the sign “Europa” equating the battered building with the continent. In the midst of despair, however, Shahn included an element of hope: a clear patch of blue sky appears in the upper left corner, suggesting that recovery has begun.
American Paintings from the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, cat. no. 78, p. 188.