Handball (1939) by Ben Shahn

Handball - Ben Shahn - 1939

Artwork Information

ArtistBen Shahn
MediumTempera on paper over composition board
Dimensions22 3/4 x 31 1/4 in
Art MovementSocial Realism
Current LocationMuseum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York City, NY, US

About Handball

The artwork titled “Handball” is a creation by artist Ben Shahn that dates back to 1939. This piece is rendered in tempera on paper over composition board, and it embodies the Social Realism art movement. The dimensions of the work measure approximately 22 3/4 by 31 1/4 inches. As a genre painting, it captures everyday life scenes, reflecting societal norms or issues of the time. This particular artwork has found its home at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City, NY, US.

“Handball” by Ben Shahn depicts a group of men engrossed in the game of handball against a large, smooth wall suitable for the sport. The players are informally dressed, some in shirts with sleeves rolled up, others in lighter attire, suggesting a casual, possibly urban recreational setting. The strong vertical of the wall divides the space, while a single number ‘1’ demarcates the playing area. The foreground and background players are in various dynamic poses, conveying the movement and competitiveness of the game.

In the background, one can observe industrial buildings and billboards, a characteristic feature of Shahn’s work to include social context in his art. The ambient cityscape further paints a picture of a bygone era, providing a glimpse into the American life of the late 1930s. The figures are stylized with an emphasis on form and movement rather than detailed individual characteristics, which is indicative of Shahn’s style and his focus on the collective experience rather than the individual.

The artwork serves as a poignant illustration of community engagement and the social fabric of the period, showcasing Shahn’s ability to encapsulate the essence of working-class leisure against a backdrop of an evolving urban landscape. The painting thus not only acts as a snapshot of a recreational moment but also subtly comments on the societal structure and cultural atmosphere of the time.

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