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Alexander O. Levy (1881-1947)

Negro Spiritual

1936

Oil on wood panel, 30 1/4 x 30 3/4 inches. Signed and dated lower right: "ALEX/LEVY/1936"

Exhibitions:

Buffalo Society of Artists Annual Exhibition, Buffalo, NY, 1937 (jury prize and popular prize); Arnot Art Gallery, Elmira, NY, March, 1941; Enduring America: Selections from the Collection of Art and Peggy Hittner, Northern Arizona University Art Museum, April 7 - May 29, 2015.

Reproduced:

Antiques and The Arts Weekly, "The Gallery" supplement, November 5, 2004 (advertisement for Joyce Kirschner Fine Arts); Enduring America (catalogue).

References:

Alexander O. Levy: American Artist, Art Deco Painter (Burchfield Penney Art Center, 2014).

Provenance:

Acquired from Joyce Kirschner Fine Arts, New York, NY, October 29, 2004.

Notes:

Inscribed in black paint on reverse of panel: ““Negro Spiritual”/ by Alex Levy/ Buffalo NY/ Price--$600.00/ Prize--/ Buffalo Society/ Annual 1937/ Also—Won—Popular Vote” and again in pencil: ““Negro Spiritual”/ Alex Levy”.  Framed three-inch partially gilded and whitewashed carved wood frame of the period (not original to painting). A closely-related work of smaller size with the same title and very similar subject matter, dated 1939 (Syracuse University Art Galleries, see Fig. 1, below), was included in “Aspects of American Realist Art, 1925-1965,” an international touring exhibition, with stops in Amsterdam, Florence, Barcelona and Madrid, organized by Syracuse University in 1975 to commemorate America’s bicentennial. Some restoration due to splitting in wood panel.

     Born in Bonn, Germany, in 1881, Alexander Oscar Levy emigrated to Cincinnati, Ohio three years later. He began his formal art education at the tender age of twelve, studying with Frank Duveneck at the Cincinnati Art Academy (1894-1900) and later at the New York School of Fine and Applied Art under William Merritt Chase, Robert Henri and Ossip Linde. By 1909, he had relocated to Buffalo where he spent the balance of his life as a painter, illustrator, printmaker and designer. Levy participated in exhibitions at the Cincinnati Art Museum, Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Art Institute of Chicago, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Albright Art Gallery in Buffalo and with the Society of Independent Artists and Buffalo Society of Artists. His work is included in numerous major institutional collections including the Cincinnati Art Museum, Art Institute of Chicago and Detroit Institute of Art.  A major retrospective of Levy's work was mounted at the Burchfield Penney Art Center in Buffalo in 2014-15.

     Levy’s proficiency as a draftsman is evident in this poignant portrayal of Depression-era African-Americans at worship. When it was exhibited at the Buffalo Society of Artists Annual Exhibition in 1937, Negro Spiritual won both the jury award and the prize for the exhibition's most popular work. Using bold, broad brushstrokes reminiscent of the technique of his mentors, the artist has deftly captured the desperation as well as the hope and faith of his subjects, representing, in all probability, three generations of a single family. Each figure independently embodies a complex range of emotions. Superbly balanced and skillfully illuminated, the composition focuses on the elderly woman in the foreground, a figure whose strength and dignity seems sufficient for the entire family.

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Fig. 1 - Levy, Alexander, Negro Spiritual1939, oil on wood panel, 14 x 11 inches, Syracuse University Art Galleries,

Gift of Allen Levy, 1976.19.