Harold J. Rabinovitz (1915-1944)
Oil on canvas laid down on masonite, 61 x 43 inches. Signed lower right: "H.J. Rabinovitz"
Springfield Art League 17th Annual Exhibition, Springfield Museum of Fine Arts, Springfield, MA, February 1-23, 1936 (first prize, oils); Harold Rabinovitz Memorial Exhibition, Springfield Museum of Fine Arts, Springfield, MA, February 3-24, 1952 (catalogue no. 4); “An Uncommon Selection,” D. Wigmore Fine Art, Inc., December, 2005 to January 6, 2006; Enduring America: Selections from the Collection of Art and Peggy Hittner, Northern Arizona University Art Museum, April 7 - May 29, 2015.
Hittner, Arthur D., "Art of the Thirties: Rediscovered Masters of the American Scene," Antiques & Fine Art, Autumn/Winter, 2009, p. 171; Hittner, Arthur D., "Searching for Harold Rabinovitz," Fine Art Connoisseur, August, 2014, p. 55; Enduring America (catalogue); Speer, George V. and Arthur D. Hittner, "Enduring America: The Collection of Art & Peggy Hittner," American Art Review, June, 2015, p. 88.
Hittner, Arthur D., At the Threshold of Brilliance: The Brief but Splendid Career of Harold J. Rabinovitz (The Rabinovitz Project, 2017); Hittner, Arthur D., "Searching for Harold Rabinovitz," Fine Art Connoisseur, August, 2014, pp. 55-60; Rogers, W. G., "Springfield Art League’s First Two Awards Given to Local, Cleveland Painters,” The Springfield Union, February 1, 1936 and other newspaper clippings contained in a family scrapbook owned by a niece of the artist (a copy of which accompanies the artwork).
Owned by the artist to at least 1939 at which time it was on loan to Springfield Hospital, Springfield, MA; ownership attributed to Springfield Hospital at time of 1952 memorial exhibition; acquired at auction in Springfield/Pittsfield, MA area by private collector around 2000; acquired by Covington Fine Arts Gallery, Inc., Tucson, AZ, 2005; consigned by Covington to D. Wigmore Fine Arts, Inc., New York, NY, December, 2005-January, 2006; acquired from Covington, January 19, 2006.
Retains original stretcher support; original 3 1/2-inch frame has been refinished. Artist’s signature and date printed on upper right of stretcher: “H.J. Rabinovitz/ Jan. 20, 1936”. Two typed label fragments preserved on original support read: “…PICTURE OF THREE FIGURES IS OWNED BY/ … . RABINOVITZ AND IS ON LOAN AT/ … SPRINGFIELD HOSPITAL/ [signed] Eugene Walker” [label is also hand dated “Mar. 2/39”] and “…SCIENCES LIBRARY/ ON EXTENDED LOAN/ TO/ …ARS…”. Labels for Covington Fine Arts Gallery, Inc. on stretcher and frame. Rabinovitz's life and work were the inspiration for the novel Artist, Soldier, Lover, Muse by Arthur D. Hittner (Apple Ridge Press, 2017).
Fig. 1 - Harold J. Rabinovitz, Self-Portrait, c. 1937 (private collection, Tucson, AZ). Photo courtesy Covington Fine Arts Gallery, Inc.
Once in a while, a masterpiece comes along by an artist lost to obscurity. Such is the case with Harold J. Rabinovitz’s Eventide, a Regionalist tour de force completed by a once precocious but now unheralded artist before his twenty-first birthday.
Born to Russian-Jewish immigrant parents (his father was a respected physician in Springfield, Massachusetts), Rabinovitz developed a very early interest in art, attending classes at that city’s George Walter Vincent Smith Museum before entering high school. He matriculated at Yale University in 1931, earning a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Painting in 1935. The following year, he opened a studio in Springfield. After traveling to Europe in 1937, he relocated to New York City, continuing his studies at the Art Students League, most notably under the tutelage of Yasuo Kuniyoshi (1889-1953).
In his early twenties, Rabinovitz was invited to participate in many of the nation’s most prestigious annual exhibitions, including the Corcoran Gallery biennial (1939), the exhibition of contemporary American art at the World’s Fair of 1939, the annual exhibitions of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (1939-41), the Carnegie Institute (1939), the Whitney Museum of American Art (1940) and the National Academy of Design (1941). (See Figs. 1 and 2 for other examples of Rabinovitz's work from this period.)
Rabinovitz completed Eventide shortly after his graduation from Yale, exhibiting it at the Springfield Art League’s 1936 annual where it garnered first prize honors from a jury comprised of Edward Hopper, Eugene Speicher and Franklin Watkins. Unusually large in size, the work combines elements of figurative, still life and landscape painting, drawing on themes of Renaissance art with which the artist had become familiar during his studies at Yale. Art historian Dr. George V. Speer describes the painting as follows:
Eventide is a monumental painting that, in its theme and composition, draws upon scripture, art history, and the visual culture of America in the 1930s. The archaic, poetic title immediately lifts the painting beyond the ordinariness of its subject—a farm woman with her just-bathed baby preparing to greet her husband at the end of a long day. The mother’s torqued, somewhat unnatural posture evokes hieratic medieval composition, in which expressive distortions established the mystical, otherworldly realm of the spirit. But her intense focus on her baby as well as the exchange of gestures between mother and child reflect humanistic changes in such images after the fourteenth century. At the lower right, a potted flower stands in for white lilies, the emblems of purity found in countless representations of the Virgin Mary. The plant sits atop a simple wooden stool within the house, so that the home is both a modern symbol of shelter and safety—from the turmoil suggested in the darkened clouds in the distance—and a subtle reworking of the hortus conclusus, the enclosed garden that further protects Mary’s virtue. The flower is effectively another character in the narrative: its upward growth gently repeats the spiraling postures and gestures of the mother and child and leads the eye out of doors as if to draw their attention to the father’s approach.
In the middle distance, serpentine furrows of dark, rich soil compositionally conjoin husband, wife, and child. Rabinovitz thus invokes the idea of the “Madonna of the Meadow,” a powerful trope in Regionalist music, literature and painting in the 1930s. In public murals across the country, she and the stalwart husband approaching the house—Thomas Jefferson’s yeoman farmer brought into the twentieth century—incarnated pioneer virtues of faith and fortitude, a “usable past” from which modern Americans might draw strength. Throughout Eventide, the artist’s drawing and paint handling are almost sculptural, lending a weight and monumentality to the forms commensurate with the scale of the canvas. This stylistic approach imbues the narrative with an enduring timelessness, a perfect and unbreakable unity among family, nature, and home. To a people battered by climatic and economic disasters, there could be no more powerful an embodiment of hope than the baby, who would no doubt have a better future.*
With the onset of the Second World War in 1941, Rabinovitz enlisted as a combat engineer with the U.S. Army. He was captured by the Japanese during the fall of Bataan in the war’s earliest stages and died in 1944 when the unmarked Japanese freighter transporting Rabinovitz and fellow prisoners of war was sunk by an American torpedo.
Though honored by a memorial exhibition in his native Springfield in 1952, subsequent recognition of the artist has been thwarted both by his tragically brief career and the retention of the largest body of his work in the hands of his descendants and beyond public view. For an expanded biography of Rabinovitz and a catalogue raisonne of his work, see Hittner, Arthur D., At the Threshold of Brilliance: The Brief but Splendid Career of Harold J. Rabinovitz (The Rabinovitz Project, 2017); for a historical novel inspired by the artist's life, see Hittner, Arthur D., Artist, Soldier, Lover, Muse (Apple Ridge Press, 2017).
* Quoted from entry on Eventide in Enduring America: Selections from the Collection of Art and Peggy Hittner (Northern Arizona University Art Museum, 2015).
Fig. 2 - Harold J. Rabinovitz, Furnished Rooms, 1937 (private collection, New York, NY). Photo courtesy Covington Fine Arts Gallery, Inc.
Also in the Collection:
Harold J. Rabinovitz, Breadline or Skid Row, c. 1935, etching, 8 1/8 x 7 1/8 inches (image size), pencil signed, lower right margin ("H. Rabinovitz") and in plate ("RABINOVITZ") on edge of manhole cover, lower right. Based on 1935 painting in the collection of one of the artist's descendants.