American artist Bernard Perlin, 95, died at his home in Ridgefield, Connecticut, on January 14. Over a period of seven decades, he created a variety of works, ranging from war propaganda posters and drawings of New York streets to Italian landscapes.
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Perlin initially worked for the U.S. government, before becoming a writer-artist for magazines such as Life and Fortune, during World War II.
Later, in his forties, he began to foster a reputation for himself in New York art galleries. His most famous work from that period was “Orthodox Boys” (1948), which depicts two Jewish boys discussing a Jewish text against a backdrop of a graffiti-stained wall. The work is currently located at the Tate Gallery in London.
Throughout his long career, Perlin shifted styles and directions many times. During the seven years he spent in Italy, until 1954, his work became much lighter. Perlin’s use of light in his works from that period was praised by Stuart Preston, a New York Times art critic, after they were included in an exhibition at New York’s Catherine Viviano Gallery. Writing about the work “Capri,” currently located in the Hirshhorn Museum, Washington, Preston wrote, “I venture to call this picture a masterpiece.”
During the late 1950s, Perlin moved to Ridgefield, “to escape the artificial, ego-pressured world of artists in New York, competing with each other to make the most money,” as he told one local newspaper at the time. The New York Times recounted that he added, “I really hated those parties where the person who’s talking to you is looking over his shoulder to find someone who’s more important.”
Perlin was born on November 21, 1918, in Richmond, Virginia, to Russian-Jewish immigrant parents. His father and grandfather were tailors. Following advice from one of his high school art teachers, his parents enrolled him at the New York School of Design in 1934. Later, Perlin painted murals for the U.S. Treasury Department, as well as the Naval Maritime Commission.
Perlin had recently resumed drawing after a 30-year hiatus that had begun in the 1970s.