Leonard Baskin 1922 —2000


My conversation with Leonard began the day I met him as he interviewed me for his tutorial at Hampshire College. He was impressed by my sizable stack of juvenile ink drawings & he agreed to take me as a student. As I was leaving he pronounced in response to a lone pastel hanging on the wall of my studio space, "And your colors are wretched!". Curiously, as I left the building a smile crossed my face. I understood then, that I had found a real teacher.  When I discovered how many honorary doctorates Leonard had accumulated, I started calling him Doc & called him that all the years that I new him. But I called him Doc, not for his degrees, but for a kind of art psychotherapy he administered. Leonard listened as much as he instructed. For Leonard, how one drew was only as important as what one drew upon - that if ones art was to have emotive resonance, one had to attend one’s emotional core. 

in memoriam

Michael Kuch: Leonard Baskin’s Memorial Service 7 July 2000

Baskin was many things  - There was Baskin the Caldecott-honored children's book illustrator, and Baskin the watercolorist whose explosion of color burst so unexpectedly, in mid career.  There was Baskin the printmaker, who reinvented the monumental woodcut, and at the core was Baskin the sculptor. ("I am foremost and fundamentally a sculptor."), who in the estimation of many, was the preeminent sculptor of our time ("Not because I am so great, though I am, but because all the others are so dreadful.")

Leonard Baskin was born in New Brunswick, New Jersey, the son of a rabbi.  He studied with the sculptor Maurice Glickman between 1937-39, and in 1939 had his first one-man show in New York.  He attended New York University (1939-41) and Yale (1941-43) universities and then served in the U.S. Navy during World War II before continuing his studies at the New School for Social Research in New York.

The year of his graduation (1949) Baskin began making prints and he nev er stopped;  Baskin became a premier printmaker, sculptor and book designer.  In 1950 he went to Paris and studied at the Acadamie de la Grande Chaumiare, and the following year to Florence to work at the Accademia di Belle Arti.  Baskin's traditional training and his conviction that art should serve one's fellow man made him a rather unique figure during the 1950s, when abstraction and the expression of one's personal feelings held sway.  Rather than experimenting with new formal structures, media, or techniques, Baskin developed a mastery of old techniques -woodcarving, woodcuts, etching, and lithography-and determined to use his work for social ends.  During the 1950s he began a series of full-length standing figures of "dead men" in stone, bronze, and wood.  Related to these are his "Birdmen" (human figures with bird heads that are reminiscent of certain statues of Egyptian gods) and his "Oppressed Men" (often featuring an owl -another favorite theme-standing on the head of a man).  All of these figures represent "universal man" struggling with the problems of life and death, aspiration, immortality, and corruption. In his prints Baskin extends the psychological overtones of his sculpture even further, frequently producing powerful brooding, and even tortured, images.  Much of the strength of these works derives from his bold cutting technique, which exploits the texture of the wood, and from his mastery of black and white.  Strength and mastery are keynotes of his work, whether depicting man or bird.

Perhaps the two greatest influences on Baskin's work are Japanese calligraphy and German expressionism (the artists he admires most are Kaethe Kollwitz and Ernst Barlach).  Defending the so-called "literary" or "journalistic" qualities of his work, Baskin has noted: "All art is propaganda.... The communication of an artistic idea is an act of propaganda."  He has stated that for him the most important subject is "anxiety-ridden man, imprisoned in his ungainly self," and has illustrated this theme in such prints as Hanged Man, Angel of Death, and Oppressed Bird with Human Aspects.

Like his black ink drawings on white paper, Baskin's graphics are technically brilliant.  His most recent work is a series of bronze sculptures-many with an elegiac air-on the usual themes of death and compassion, and like all his work they display an odd combination of sophistication with the seemingly primitive."  Baskin is often termed a romantic humanist," perhaps a result of his disavowal of the "purely decorative" and "the private world of the artist."

He had long been interested in book illustration and founded the Gehenna Press, Northampton, Mass., which prints and publishes limited editions. A typical volume would be Homed Beetles and Other Insects, for which Baskin has provided thirty-four etchings; however, his interest extends beyond illustration into total book design: the integrating of type, paper, illustrations, and binding to form an esthetic object.  Baskin has taught at Smith College since 1953 and has won numerous awards including the Printmaking Prize at the Sao Paulo Biennial (1961) and medals from the American Institute of Graphic Arts (1965) and the National Institute of Arts and Letters (1969)

Leonard Baskin was one of the universal artists of the 20th century. He was a renowned sculptor.  In addition, Baskin was a writer and illustrator of books ranging from the bible to children's' stories and natural history. He was a talented water-colorist and a superb, prolific print-maker. His prints ranged from woodcuts through lithography and etching; his subjects covered portraits, flower studies, biblical, classical and mythological scenes.. Among Baskin's many commissions is a bas relief he made for the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial and the Holocaust Memorial statue erected on the site of the first Jewish cemetery in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Baskin won many awards including the Gold Medal of the National Academy of Arts and Letters, the Special Medal of Merit of the American Institute of Graphic Arts and the Gold Medal of the National Academy of Design.  Baskin was a noted philatelist and built an important and eclectic collection of postage stamps.

From 1953 until 1974, he taught printmaking and sculpture at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. While he was a student at Yale University, he founded Gehenna Press, a small private press specializing in fine book production. He lived most of his life in the U.S., but spent nine years in Devon at Lurley Manor, Lurley, near Tiverton, close to his friend Ted Hughes -- for whom he illustrated Crow. There, he opened a studio, helping young people with sculpture and art.

Baskin received numerous honors, among them a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Gold Medal of the National Academy of Arts and Letters, and the Jewish Cultural Achievement Award.  He had many retrospective exhibitions, including those at the Smithsonian, the Albertina, and the Library of Congress. His work is in major private and public institutions.  Fifty-two museums have work of Leonard Baskin in their permanent collection, including the Amon Carter MuseumBrooklyn Museum, Chrysler Museum, Denver Art Museum, Hunter Museum of American Art, Kresge Art MuseumMetropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art,  Newark Museum, Oakland Museum of California, Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Portland Art Museum, Scripps College, San Diego Museum of Art, Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery, Smith College Museum of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the British Museum, the National Portrait Gallery, Whitney Museum of American Art,  and the Vatican Museums.

An important source for modern and contemporary American & European Art in East Hampton, New York & worldwide, Janet Lehr Fine Arts' spectacular wide-ranging inventory consists of unique paintings, drawings, large & small scale sculpture, monotypes, prints and photographs  by Ansel Adams, Milton Avery, Richard Avedon, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Romare Bearden, Fernando Botero, Cartier-Bresson, Marc Chagall, Alvin Langdon Coburn, Willem De Kooning, Richard Diebenkorn, Thomas Eakins, Childe Hassam, David Hockney, Winslow Homer, Wolf Kahn, Jeff Koons, Fernand Leger, Roy Lichtenstein, Man Ray, Thomas Moran, Henry Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Jackson Pollock, Robert Rauschenberg, Mark Rothko, Cindy Sherman, Charles Sheeler, Bert Stern, Alfred Stieglitz, Andy Warhol, Carleton E Watkins, Tom Wesselmann and Andrew Wyeth.

To bookmark Janet Lehr Fine Arts Gallery website: http://www.janetlehrfinearts.com

View synoptic biography below.



11 x 13 x 12 inches 27.9 x 33 x 30.48 cm
Edition of 15, Signed and numbered on the base

NaturPapier, KunsGarten, Graz
Graphic Force, Humanist Vision, Portland Art Museum, Portland, OR (solo)
Madea and Her Sisters: Leonard Baskin's Images of Women, Smith College Museum of Art, Northampton, MA (solo)
Clear Cut, Portland Art Museum, Portland, OR
Art Inspires Music: Interdisciplinary Gallery Project 3, ASU Art Museum, Arizona State University Art Museum, Tempe, AZ
Framed: The Art of the Portrait, Art Gallery of Hamilton, Hamilton, ON
Leonard Baskin: Portrait Prints and the Gehenna Press, Brooks Museum of Art, Memphis, TN (solo)
More than Coffee was Served, Galerie St. Etienne, New York, NY
New Acquisitions: Prints, ASU Art Museum, Arizona State University Art Museum, Tempe, AZ
Spotlight, Thomas Deans Fine Art, Atlanta, GA
Currents: Twenty-Five Years of Collecting Modern and Contemporary Prints, Mary & Leigh Block Museum of Art, Evanston, IL
Leonard Baskin: Creatures of Darkness, Greenville County Museum of Art, Greenville, SC (solo)
Leonard Baskin: Two Portfolios, Oklahoma City Museum of Art, Oklahoma City, OK (solo)
Objects of Our Desire: Sculpture from the Sheldon, Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery, Lincoln, NE
DeCordova Collects: Gifts from Stephen and Sybil Stone, DeCordova Museum, Lincoln, MA
Images of Nature, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA
Leonard Baskin, McMaster Museum of Art, Hamilton, ON (solo)
The Modern Woodcut, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA
Leonard Baskin: Monumental Prints, The de Young Museum, San Francisco, CA (solo)
Leonard Baskin: 1947-1998, Hunter Museum of Art Chattanooga, TN
Caprices, Grotesques and Homages: Leonard Baskin and The Gehenna Press, Library of Congress Washington, DC
Angels to the Jews, Midtown Payson Gallery New York, NY
The Albertina Vienna, Austria
National Museum of American Art/The Smithsonian Washington, DC
XXXIV International Bienniel Exhibition of Art, Venice, Italy
The Royal Watercolour Society/St. George's Gallery London, England
Pasadena Art Museum Pasadena, CA
Glickman Studio Gallery New York, NY

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