American Masterpieces from Dryads Green Gallery
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Artist: John R. Grabach
Artist Dates: 1886 - 1981    
Signature:
Lower Left
Title: Back Yard Spring
Painting Date: ca.1931
Medium: Oil on Canvas
Provenance:Private Clctn.
Condition:
Excellent           
Size Unframed: 29 x 36   
Frame: Antique Repro
Artist Best Price: $48,000      
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Curator's Comments: Be they 'The Eight' or 'The Ten' or the 'Ash Can School' one thing is
certain--the painters emphasizing social realism amounted to one--George Bellows. The rest of these
mainly PAFA trained boys, many of whom worked as illustrators for Hearst's jingoist yellow press were
artistic rebels of a different sort, like Henri, who opposed Merritt Chase and the artistic establishment
and the NA but really never featured a lot of tenements. Can we call Prendergast, Lawson, and
Glackens Social Realists? Allied with Bellows were Luks and Sloan--where a political thrust can be
seen. And Bellows was to become the chief influence on Jersey boy John R. Grabach who in turn was to
become the mentor of Henry Gasser. This is why the Smithsonian owns six works by Grabach--the
leading American painter of the Great Depression--including his masterful 'The Fifth Year' and
'Prosperity'--two of the greatest works in the cannon of American Social Realism.

Grabach was born in Newark in 1886 and died in Irvington in 1981. He left New Jersey only briefly--at
the start of his career when he painted at Greenfield Massachusetts and in the 1920s when he was
active and a prize-winner in Los Angeles. His near 100-year span means that he taught entire
generations of devoted students. His earliest art training came from artist Albert Dick, and then
August Schwabe who introduced him to the Newark Sketch Club. While a metalworker in Newark, he
commuted to New York, where he was enrolled in night classes at the Art Students League and studied
under Kenyan Cox, George Bridgman, and Frank Vincent Dumond. In 1935, he accepted an
instructional position at the Newark School of Fine and Industrial Arts, where he would go on to
mentor Henry Gasser, who traveled with Grabach on painting trips to Cape Ann, and whose early
works echo Grabach's lurking figures.
    A Great New Grabach Prize-Winner for Social Realism
                                   
'Prosperity'--A Back Yard Masterpiece
From the 1920s through the 1960s, Grabach was the subject of numerous one-man exhibitions in
prestigious galleries and institutions across the country. In 1928 he had a solo exhibition at the Art
Institute of Chicago.  In 1980, The Smithsonian honored Grabach with a solo retrospective show of his
work--an unusual tribute for a  living artist, and our essay is based on Virginia Mecklenburg's,
John
R. Grabach: Seventy Years An Artist
, published for the retropective. John R. Grabach: Century Man, a
more recent retrospective curated by Gary Erbe, traveled widely. Both shows featured 'The Fifth
Year'--Grabach's masterful depiction of the suffering endured during the Great Depression. The
painting gains its power from Grabach's two strengths. He was a superb artist of the human figure--as
exemplified in his important book,
How to Draw the Human Figure. Secondly, Grabach's early
landscape work was sharpened by his World War I work as a military mapmaker. The Fifth Year
combines these skills by superimposing monumental figures of the failed nouveau riche on the
topography of New York City as they trudge through the sky in despair--from Wall Street back to New
Jersey. In 1939 the work was chosen for the New York World's Fair.

As Grabach continued to focus on the despair and raw emotions millions experienced during the Great
Depression the urban backyard became a symbol. It is both jammed in, overcrowded, and fenced into
isolation. Grabach's urban landscape tells a tale beneath a discolored sky whose smog darkens its
houses and their blue-collar occupants. This is the landscape of an industrial society, but also a private
place, unseen from Main Street--a map of consciousness in the back, out of sight, behind the fence.
There is despair, hope, and struggle--all hidden. Looking at
Back Yards in Early Spring, we quickly
learn that the foreground belongs to a foreclosed, abandoned property where grassy streaks tint dirty
snow. On the far left we see daffodils a plenty--the aesthetic impulse is preserved. In the middle, a
working class immigrant couple is removing autumn leaves and tilling a red cabbage patch for new
planting. The houses match this psychology. Reality dominates. Some people have lost all hope, others
continue on--in the spirit of the Victory Gardens of wartime--others plant flowers to signify hope
eternal. But nothing is romanticized. The washing is a flag signaling life and industry--the best and
brightest gardens--and the newest painted of all houses. But community joins all--that is the deepest
and most important of Grabach's messages--his houses form a neighborhood that manages to stand
together.
'The Fifth Year' in the Smithsonian
Grabach & Gasser
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